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Thursday, November 1, 2012

2006 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5): Designating Nonattainment Areas



Robert Esworthy
Specialist in Environmental Policy

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its final revisions to the Clean Air Act (CAA) National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for particulate matter (particulates, or PM) on October 17, 2006. EPA’s actions leading up to and following promulgation of the 2006 standard have been the subject of considerable congressional oversight. EPA and states’ ongoing implementation of the standard, beginning with the designation of those geographical areas not in compliance, likewise has been an area of concern and debate among some Members of Congress, states, and other stakeholders for some time. EPA’s most recent round of periodic review of the particulates NAAQS and proposal to revise the PM NAAQS, published June 29, 2012, have prompted further scrutiny of the ongoing implementation of the standards. EPA has agreed to issue final revised PM NAAQS by December 14, 2012.

Promulgation of NAAQS sets in motion a process under which the states and EPA identify areas that exceed the standard (“nonattainment areas”) using multi-year air quality monitoring data and other criteria, requiring states to take steps to reduce pollutant concentrations in order to achieve it. The publication of the final designations for the 2006 NAAQS—and thus the effective date of the final designations—had initially been delayed pending review by the current Administration. On November 13, 2009, EPA published its final designations for the 2006 PM NAAQS that included 120 counties and portions of counties in 18 states as nonattainment areas based on 2006 through 2008 air quality monitoring data. The final designations, which include tribal land of 22 tribes, were effective as of December 14, 2009. States have three years from the effective date to submit nonattainment area State Implementation Plans (SIPs), which identify specific regulations and emission control requirements that would bring a nonattainment area into compliance.

The 2006 NAAQS strengthened the pre-existing (1997) standard for “fine” particulate matter 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter (PM2.5) by lowering the allowable daily concentration of PM2.5 in the air. The daily standard averaged over 24-hour periods was reduced from 65 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) to 35 μg/m3. However, the annual PM2.5 standard, which addresses human health effects from chronic exposures to the pollutants, was unchanged from the 1997 standard of 15 μg/m3. The 2006 NAAQS did not substantially modify the daily standard for slightly larger, but still inhalable, particles less than or equal to 10 micrometers (PM10), retaining the 24-hour standard but revoking the annual standard for PM10.

EPA’s final nonattainment designations are only for the revised 2006 24-hour PM2.5 standard. EPA did not require new nonattainment designations for the PM2.5 annual standard and for PM10. The final designations for the 2006 PM2.5 NAAQS included a few areas designated nonattainment for PM2.5 for the first time, but, as expected, the majority of the counties identified overlapped with EPA’s final nonattainment designations for the 1997 PM2.5 NAAQS. EPA’s designations for the 1997 PM2.5 NAAQS included all or part of 204 counties in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Most of them were only exceeding the annual standard; only 12 counties were exceeding both the 24-hour and the annual standards. Thus, the 2006 tightening of the 24-hour standard resulted in an increased number of areas being designated nonattainment based on exceedances of both the 24-hour and the annual standards.



Date of Report: October 25, 2012
Number of Pages: 41
Order Number: R40096
Price: $29.95

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