Yesterday, June 6, 2017, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced a one-year delay of EPA’s final designation of areas under the 2015 ozone standard.  The 2015 standard was issued on October 26, 2015 and tightened the existing 2008 standard from 75 ppb to 70 ppb.  In general, EPA is required to issue designations within two years of publication of a new standard. Designations for the 2015 standard were originally due by this October, and EPA would have been required to preview for the states its intended designations at least 120 days in advance of the October deadline – by this August.   
Section 107(d) of the Clean Air act explicitly authorizes EPA to extend the timeframe for final area designations by up to one year “in the event the Administrator has insufficient information to promulgate the designations.”   Pruitt sent a letter to state governors announcing the extension of the designation deadline that states, “I have determined that there is insufficient information, and taking additional time is appropriate to consider completely all designation recommendations provided by state governors….”  To see the states’ recommendations for area designations under the 2015 standard click here .

In his role as Attorney General for the State of Oklahoma, Pruitt joined with the Attorneys General of Arizona, Arkansas, and North Dakota and the New Mexico Environment Department in challenging the 2015 ozone standard when it was issued.   This challenge was consolidated with other challenges from industry and environmental group petitioners under Murray Energy Corp. v. United States Environmental Protection Agency.  Oral argument before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals was originally scheduled for April 2017, but the litigation has been held in abeyance while Pruitt’s EPA weighs a potential reconsideration of the Agency’s October 2015 decision to tighten the ozone standard.

Pruitt’s June 6, 2017 press release and letter to state governors indicate that the decision to delay final designations under the 2015 standard also provides the Agency with additional time to conduct its reconsideration of the rule.  The press release further states that the action to delay designations under the 2015 standard gives the Agency time to “better understand some lingering, complicated issues so that air attainment decisions can be based on the latest and greatest information.”  Specific issues that the Agency is evaluating include background ozone levels, accounting for international transport, and timely consideration of exceptional events demonstrations.