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EPA Approves Rhode Island's Plan for Complying With Air Pollution Standards

Release Date: 04/07/2003
Contact Information: Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office, 617-918-1008

BOSTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced that the agency has approved Rhode Island's plan for coming into compliance with air pollution standards in Rhode Island. The plan details the steps Rhode Island is taking and will take in the future to ensure it will meet smog-related pollution standards by 2007. The plan was approved by EPA's New England office on March 27 and was published in the Federal Register today.

The plan, developed by the R.I. Department of Environmental Management, is focused on compliance with a national health-based, one-hour outdoor air standard for ozone (smog) throughout Rhode Island. Ground-level ozone, the main ingredient of smog, can cause serious breathing problems, aggravate asthma and other pre-existing lung diseases, and make more people susceptible to respiratory infection.

The one-hour standard of 0.120 parts per million is the ambient air quality standard that was established by EPA in 1979 for ground-level ozone. EPA strengthened this standard in 1997 when it created a new 8-hour standard of 0.080 parts per million to protect against longer exposure periods. Implementation of the 8-hour ozone standard was originally delayed by litigation, however, which necessitated Rhode Island developing a plan to meet the one-hour standard.

"Today's approval of Rhode Island's clear air plan is another important step toward our shared goal of providing smog-free, clean air for all of New England," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England Office. "Our goal is to completely eliminate unhealthful levels of smog in the summer so children can play safely outside on all days and people with respiratory disease will not have difficulty breathing."

"I am pleased that EPA has approved our plan, enabling us to move forward with our determined efforts to eliminate ozone exceedances in Rhode Island within the next few years," added Jan H. Reitsma, director of the R.I. Department of Environmental Management.

"In addition to the provisions of this plan, Rhode Island is undertaking several other major initiatives to improve air quality," Reitsma added. "DEM, along with the Department of Transportation, the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority and others, is implementing a number of innovative transportation programs designed to reduce emissions. And we are seeking to implement key aspects of the Rhode Island Greenhouse Gas Action Plan, which will also have benefits for smog related pollution."

The state's ozone air quality plan includes such ongoing activities as:

    • an enhanced inspection and maintenance program for air emissions from Rhode Island vehicles. The program started in January 2000;
    • cleaner-burning reformulated gasoline, first put into effect in 1995 and made more stringent in 2000;
    • vapor recovery requirements for gasoline dispensing pumps in place since the early 1990s;
    • substantial emission reduction requirements for nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution – a major contributor to smog pollution – from power plants and other large industrial sources in the eastern United States. The requirements were put in place by a number of Northeastern states, including Rhode Island, in 1999 and will be expanded to include 19 Midwest and Eastern states in 2004.
Rhode Island's plan also relies on air pollution reductions resulting from stringent standards adopted by EPA for new cars, trucks and non-road vehicles such as construction equipment and gasoline-powered lawn and garden equipment. The new automobile standards, which will further reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by 77 percent for cars and 92 percent for trucks and sport utility vehicles, will kick into effect in 2004.

In addition, Rhode Island will benefit from regulations adopted by states as part of the EPA's Regional Transport of Ozone Rule, which requires 19 eastern states and the District of Columbia to address the regional transport of ground-level ozone through reductions in nitrogen oxides. Under the rule, the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island have adopted regulations requiring large sources of nitrogen oxides, including fossil-fuel fired power plants, to meet stringent caps on NOx emissions during May through September, starting in 2003. The states of Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia have adopted similar regulations which will cap NOx emissions starting in 2004. By 2004, NOx emissions from fossil-fuel fired power plants during May through September — the time of year when smog levels are highest – will be reduced by about 55 percent and will be capped at these levels in the future.

The approval is the latest milestone in a process started by the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. Throughout the plan's development, Rhode Island worked closely with EPA and neighboring states to develop the analyses that demonstrate Rhode Island's ability to meet the 1-hour ozone standard by 2007. The ozone air quality plan approved by EPA covers all of Rhode Island. Ozone air quality plans for Connecticut, Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire have been approved in recent years.

Pursuant to the plan, air emissions in Rhode Island of two key components that form ozone – volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides – are expected to decrease significantly by 2007. Volatile organic compounds, mostly emitted by cars, trucks, paints and solvents, are expected to drop by 16 percent from 1999 levels. Nitrogen oxides, mostly emitted by cars, trucks and fuel burning equipment such as electric power plants, are expected to drop by 21 percent from 1999 levels.

Data on the one-hour ozone standard also show significant improvement in Rhode Island. In the early 1980s, Rhode Island experienced as many as 16 days in a year when the one-hour ozone standard was exceeded. In 2002, air quality monitoring data indicate that there were only two days when the one-hour ozone standard was exceeded. The plan approved today will continue this downward trend toward meeting the one-hour ozone standard and should result in ozone levels below the standard by 2007.

In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court made a landmark decision upholding the more stringent ozone standard, which is based on an 8-hour average. In 2002, the 8-hour ozone standard was exceeded on 17 separate days in Rhode Island, and further reductions in emissions and transport will be needed to achieve that standard, which will be implemented over the next several years.