Air Pollution:

Ozone Attainment Requires Long-Term Solutions To Solve Complex Problems

RCED-88-40: Published: Jan 26, 1988. Publicly Released: Feb 3, 1988.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO examined: (1) the progress in reducing ozone levels to comply with national air quality standards; (2) the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) review of the latest data on the health effects of ozone; and (3) EPA and state and local governments' efforts to address ozone problems in three areas not attaining the standard.

GAO found that: (1) EPA identified 317 counties or parts of the country and 31 metropolitan areas that did not meet ozone standards; (2) although 123 of the counties met the standards as of January 1, 1987, none of the 31 metropolitan areas met the standards as of August 1987; (3) although a 1986 EPA study concluded that it should set a lower standard, it revised the study, because of opposition, to more clearly define adverse ozone health effects; (4) many areas failed to meet the standards because they did not implement or enforce planned control measures or have effective control measures; (5) EPA did not use the provisions of the Clean Air Act (CAA) to carry out oversight responsibilities; (6) scientific uncertainties in ozone information, weather patterns, modeling, and determining the proper controls also contributed to unmet deadlines; and (7) although EPA has recently proposed a program that would extend the attainment deadline for some areas of nonattainment without imposing construction sanctions, it cannot administratively extend CAA deadlines in lieu of enforcing the statutory penalties.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress adopted the GAO-recommended strategy as part of the Clean Air Act amendments. Improved air quality is expected to result.

    Matter: In order to build flexibility into CAA that recognizes the variety of problems areas face in attempting to reach ozone standards, and to clear up the confusion over the use of sanctions, Congress should amend CAA to establish a strategy that places nonattainment areas into different categories on the basis of their design values, emission reductions, or both, with new attainment dates for each category. Congress may wish to either establish the new attainment dates and provide criteria, or provide EPA with the authority to do so.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress revised the sanctions section of the Clean Air Act along the lines of the GAO recommendation.

    Matter: In order to build flexibility into CAA that recognizes the variety of problems areas face in attempting to reach ozone standards, and to clear up the confusion over the use of sanctions, Congress should amend CAA to specify the conditions under which sanctions will apply, such as when an area fails to implement its plan or does not meet its attainment deadline, and the extent to which EPA has discretion in applying such sanctions.

 

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