Relaxed Fuel Standards Could Jeopardize Arizona's Air Quality

Nature

The Trump administration’s plan to roll back federal car standards promises to be a major fight with California and other liberal states. But it’s also opposed by at least one state that voted for President Trump.

Arizona wants to maintain the aggressive standards established under former President Obama to avoid future regulations on air pollution, said Timothy Franquist, air quality director for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ). His office opposes Trump’s plan to freeze the standards at 2020 levels.

“We are going to talk the language of both aisles that this is bad for the health, bad for the economy,” Franquist said of the president’s plan.

The vehicle emissions standards focus on greenhouse gases, but they’re also linked to ozone. That’s significant for Arizona because the air quality around Phoenix could violate EPA ozone standards set in 2008. Running afoul of those caps, known as being in “nonattainment,” comes with penalties, like losing federal funding for roads, requiring new industrial facilities to add advanced pollution control technology and more cumbersome permitting requirements.

The vehicle fuel efficiency rules crystallized that problem for Arizona.

Franquist said the Obama levels would have taken care of the biggest vector for ground-level ozone, or smog, which forms when volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide interact with sunlight and heat. Smog has been linked to a number of heart and lung ailments. The state can’t regulate car and truck emissions directly to meet federal ozone limits—that’s what it was counting on the fuel rules to do.

Without the standards, Franquist worries the state would have to harshly regulate industrial sources like factories and electric utilities. In Phoenix, that may not be an option because transportation drives a bulk of the ozone pollution. Cleaning up industrial sources alone won’t avoid nonattainment, he said.

“When we look at the sources that contribute to ozone, it’s motor vehicles by a large margin,” Franquist said. “We want to be able to solve the ozone problem at its source. Over-regulating job creators is simply not going to get us into attainment.”

Ozone is a big problem for Arizona, and it’s fighting back against EPA rules. It’s the lead state suing the agency over stricter levels set by Obama in 2015. As such, it was dealt a shock last week when acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said his agency would leave the Obama ozone standard in place (Greenwire, Aug. 2).

EPA is also considering a rule that would prevent the counting of so-called co-benefits. That means, in the case of tailpipe standards, that the agency would only be able to consider the public health effects of greenhouse gases and not the conventional air pollutants that cars and trucks emit (Climatewire, Aug. 6).

Taken together, climate change would worsen air pollution because smog forms more easily when it’s warmer, said Janice Nolen, assistant vice president of national policy with the American Lung Association. Weaker fuel efficiency could translate to more gasoline consumption and more conventional air pollution, too. The Trump administration said its preferred alternative to the Obama standards would boost daily oil consumption by 500,000 barrels.

“You can’t ignore these benefits,” Nolen said. “They’re real, they’re measurable and they’re well-established.”

Arizona opposes the rollback, but it hasn’t joined the 19 other states that intend to sue the administration over its plan. Franquist said that’s unlikely to happen. He said Arizona has an open dialogue with EPA, noting that Henry Darwin, now second in command at the agency, led ADEQ before joining the Trump administration (Greenwire, July 12).

Other conservative states could oppose the rollback, too, after they finish reading the 978-page proposal from EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said Miles Keogh, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies (NACAA), a group of local and state air quality officials.

“This is going to be a common theme: that folks are facing air pollution nonattainment concerns and this is going to push them in the wrong direction,” Keogh said of the rollback. “It’s unlikely that a lot of the agencies that are going to arrive at that conclusion have gotten there yet.”

Keogh said he wouldn’t be surprised to see more GOP-leaning states echo Franquist. Utah and Nevada also deal with smog problems in their major urban centers of Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, respectively, he noted. Salt Lake City rests in a basin ringed by mountains, which means pollutants hang in a sort of bowl and create smog. The white-hot sun sparks smog in Sin City.

Other industry-heavy towns in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio could also feel the pinch on smog limits in the absence of fuel efficiency measures. A number of those states supported maintaining California’s authority to set its own vehicle emissions standards—which 12 other states and the District of Columbia follow—through a resolution by the Environmental Council of the States, an organization that convenes state environmental agencies.

“States all have to satisfy federal air quality requirements, and if vehicle emissions don’t keep declining, they’ll have to make up that gap by targeting stationary sources like power plants and refineries,” said Sam Sankar, the group’s executive director.

Those states didn’t view the issue through a partisan lens, Sankar said. They saw the administration’s shot at California as a violation of cooperative federalism—the idea that states can use various tools to meet federal standards. Trump’s EPA has promoted that concept.

“This is not a red state, blue state issue. This is absolutely a state-federal tension, not a political tension,” said Keogh of NACAA. “We’re a very red, white and blue association. So for us to have these concerns, it exemplifies that this has nothing to do with politics.”

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.

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