The Sept. 2 announcement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) withdrawing a proposal to prematurely tighten ozone standards was a welcome breath of fresh air for transportation construction firms and local communities across America. If the agency had proceeded, hundreds of cities across America would have been out of compliance with the Clean Air Act (CAA) and, in turn, had their federal funds for highway improvements at risk.
"Jeopardizing urgently-needed highway investments in new areas through implementation of the EPA's recommendations would have been self-defeating and imposed new obstacles for needed transportation improvements that can cut both harmful emissions and billions of dollars in wasted motor fuel caused by traffic congestion," said Nick Goldstein, American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) vice president of environmental and regulatory affairs.
The ozone standards, tightened as recently as 2008, were not required to be reviewed again until at least 2013. The EPA, however, announced in 2010 that it would examine the standards three years ahead of time. ARTBA vigorously opposed EPA's plan to implement an early review of the ozone rules, noting that many localities were still struggling to implement the standards set in 2008. ARTBA warned that EPA's action would be akin to "moving the goalposts" in the middle of a game.
Over the past two years, the association has filed multiple sets of regulatory comments and testified before EPA hearings, urging the agency not to proceed with its premature review of the ozone standards. In February 2011, ARTBA noted "nearly 34,000 people die on U.S. highways each year and many federally funded highway improvements are designed specifically to address safety issues. As such, imposing new ozone standards that lead to highway improvements being denied could be counterproductive to improving public health."
EPA's announcement underscores ARTBA's long-held belief that the transportation sector is making significant gains in air quality and these gains should not be jeopardized by an unnecessary review of the ozone standards. ARTBA will continue to be involved with EPA leading up to the 2013 review of the ozone rules and ensure that transportation improvements are not unnecessarily threatened.