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Early Action Compacts - 1997 Ozone Standard

Basic Information

Information provided for informational purposes onlyNote: EPA no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.

EPA is working with communities to get clean air as soon as possible by entering into Early Action Compacts to reduce ground-level ozone pollution. Communities with Early Action Compacts will have plans in place to reduce air pollution at least two years earlier than required by the Clean Air Act. In December 2002, a number of States submitted compact agreements pledging to reduce emissions earlier than required for compliance with the 1997 8-hour ozone standard . The States had to meet specific criteria and agreed to meet certain milestones. As long as Early Action Compact Areas meet these milestones, the effective date of ozone nonattainment designations will be deferred for those areas that are measuring violations of the 1997 standard.

On April 15, 2004, EPA designated all areas for the 1997 8-hour ozone standard. EPA deferred the effective date of nonattainment designations for Early Action Compact areas that are violating the 8-hour standard, but continue to meet compact milestones towards clean air.

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EPA is working with communities around the country to get clean air as soon as possible. Together with EPA, these communities entered into Early Action Compacts. The goal of these Compacts is to reduce ground-level ozone, commonly known as smog. Communities with Early Action Compacts will start reducing air pollution about two years sooner than required by the Clean Air Act.

By reducing pollution ahead of schedule, these communities will bring substantial, sustainable health and environmental improvements to their residents sooner than would have been achieved without these agreements.

States with communities participating in the Early Action Compacts submitted plans for meeting the 1997 national 8-hour ozone standard in December 2004, rather than waiting until 2007 -- the deadline for other areas not meeting the 1997 8-hour ozone standard.

Early Action Compacts require communities to:

  • Develop and implement air pollution control strategies,
  • Account for emissions growth, and
  • Achieve and maintain the national 8-hour ozone standard.

For those counties in the Early Action Compact that EPA has designated nonattainment for the 1997 8-hour standard, EPA will defer the effective date of the nonattainment designation. As long as Early Action Compact areas meet agreed upon milestones, the impact of nonattainment designation for the 1997 8-hour ozone standard will be deferred, which means that certain Clean Air Act requirements, such as controls on new sources, will not apply.

Early Action Compact areas must attain the 1997 8-hour ozone standard no later than December 31, 2007. In areas that do not meet the Early Action Compact deadline, the nonattainment designation will become effective April 15, 2008.

EPA will withdraw that nonattainment deferral if an area misses any milestone set out in the Early Action Compact.

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How Early Action Compacts work:

  • Early Action Compacts give certain local areas the flexibility to develop their own approach to meeting the 1997 8-hour ozone standard, provided the communities control emissions from local sources earlier than the Clean Air Act would otherwise require.
  • Only areas that are already meeting the national 1-hour ozone standard are eligible for this innovative program because EPA wants to ensure that the communities participating have a proven record of environmental progress.
  • The Early Action Compact requires areas to meet several milestones to be eligible for a series of 3 deferrals of the effective date of the 1997 8-hour ozone designation. Once an area receives a deferral, it must meet all of their subsequent clean air plan milestones to qualify for a continuation of the deferral.
  • In order to qualify for the initial deferral, States, Tribes or local areas must have submitted to EPA a complete compact agreement by December 31, 2002.
  • In order to qualify for the second deferral, States, Tribes or local areas must have submitted to EPA a State Implementation Plan by December 31, 2004.
  • In order to qualify for the third and final deferral, States, Tribes or local areas must submit to EPA an assessment of their progress toward attainment by June 30, 2006, and must demonstrate attainment with the 1997 8-hour ozone standard by December 31, 2007.
  • Early Action Compacts were signed by representatives of the local communities, State and Tribal air quality officials, and EPA Regional Administrators.

In 1997, after reviewing the scientific data, EPA changed the way it measured ground-level ozone to better protect human health. The 1997 standard measures ozone levels over 8-hour periods.

Ground-level ozone - the primary component of smog - is formed in the atmosphere on hot, sunny days. The main ingredients of ozone come from cars, trucks, power plants, refineries and other large industrial facilities, and some natural sources.

When inhaled, even at very low levels, ozone can:

  • cause acute respiratory problems;
  • aggravate asthma;
  • cause significant temporary decreases in lung capacity of 15 to over 20 percent in some healthy adults;
  • cause inflammation of lung tissue;
  • lead to hospital admissions and emergency room visits [10 to 20 percent of all summertime respiratory-related hospital visits in the northeastern U.S. are associated with ozone pollution]; and
  • impair the body's immune system defenses, making people more susceptible to respiratory illnesses, including bronchitis and pneumonia.

The Clean Air Act requires communities with air pollution levels that violate - or contribute to the violations of - the national air quality standard for ozone to:

  1. be designated as "nonattainment,"
  2. have an EPA-approved plan in place to correct the problem, and
  3. attain each standard by specific dates.

In addition to working with areas that are participating in Early Action Compacts, EPA is also working with local governments, States and Tribes that are not participating in an Early Action Compact to develop an implementation strategy for the 1997 8-hour ozone standard.

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