As part of the USDA’s Air Quality Task Force, CRC Environmental Affairs Manager Paul Buttner traveled to northern Colorado for their latest meeting covering cutting edge air quality issues.
A significant upcoming policy change discussed was the U.S. EPA’s recent proposal to change the national air quality standard for ground-level ozone.
The current ozone standard is 75 parts per billion (ppb). The 2008 action to tighten the standard to 75 ppb more than doubled the amount of California rice acres in areas designated as “nonattainment” for that stricter standard. A nonattainment label comes with burdensome regulatory impacts for affected industries. The immediate impact on rice has been more limited rice straw burning opportunities.
The EPA is publically stating plans to move down somewhere in the 65 to 70 ppb range, which would be significant. They are also inviting comment to drop the standard as low as 60 ppb. More controversial yet, they are proposing the lowest levels for protection of ecosystems and sensitive plants. Some raise the question of whether or not these proposed regulated levels are now approaching natural background levels of ozone.
Preliminary draft maps prepared by the U.S. Forest Service suggest that just moving to 70 ppb could double the amount of U.S. agricultural lands designated as nonattainment, and going down to 60 ppb could result in a three-fold increase.
This will be an interesting and passionate debate. We will be at the table in an effort to settle on the most reasonable policy, where possible.