PINEDALE – After it announced Sublette County and parts of Sweetwater and Lincoln counties were in nonattainment of air quality standards in December, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) formally designated the area as ‘marginal’ nonattainment.
This listing, based on testing from 2008 to 2011, will be the basis for implementing and developing “control plans to reduce ozone-forming pollution,” according to the EPA’s website.
The EPA will hand down a rule specifying what the region must do to reach attainment. This rule is due sometime in the middle of the summer following a 60-day public comment period.
Once the rule is in place, the nonattainment designation should be finalized by December, meaning the Upper Green River Basin would need to be back in attainment of air quality standards by December 2015. Failure to reach these standards would promote the region’s designation to ‘moderate.’
While the rule will clarify some finer points, the term ‘marginal’ comes with a set of controls, some of which the state has already implemented and others it has not, according to Monica Morales, a unit chief for air quality planning with the EPA.
The state will be responsible for emissions inventories over the next two years, which the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has already begun, Morales said.
“More stringent controls and offsets” will also be required. For example, a pre-construction permitting program, a permit necessary before construction of oil or gas infrastructure, will have additional requirements beyond what the state already mandates once the area enters nonattainment, Morales explained.
Wyoming will also need to file a State Implementation Plan (SIP), laying out what it’s doing for nonattainment. Even though the state already requires oil and gas operators comply with many of the actions the federal government deems necessary in cases of nonattainment, the SIP is required for official documentation with the EPA.
Throughout the process, the EPA will collect data from the state to monitor the area’s progress.
“One thing about Wyoming, they’re ahead of the game,” Morales said. “They’ve recognized this issue, that is out there, and now it’s just a matter of making it official.”
Much of this can be attributed to the work of the DEQ, and the agency’s public information officer, Keith Guille, said emissions have decreased.
“Obviously, we will put forth a plan for bringing this area into attainment. When we knew we were reaching these levels, when we were above the standards, we started making progress on curtailing a lot of those emissions right away. We certainly realize it’s very significant, and we were not going to wait for that process to play out,” he said.
Not wanting to wait until the EPA demanded changes, DEQ got to work on lowering emissions. While this was difficult – this region is the only nonattainment area in the country with winter ozone – Guille said emissions have gone down.
DEQ-compiled data back this up. In Sublette County, emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) have gone down from 2009 to 2011.
In 2009, VOC levels sat at approximately 67 tons per day and NOx was at nearly 18 tons per day. In 2011, these figures decreased to about 52 and 15 tons per day for VOCs and NOx, respectively.
“We’re not going to wait. This is a long process,” Guille said. “We want to work on things now, in the sense of lowering emissions.”
While DEQ works with the EPA to iron out the details of what nonattainment means, conservation groups welcomed the news of a designation.
Citizens United for Responsible Energy Developmenmt, or CURED, threatened a lawsuit in late September if Sublette County and surrounding areas was not promulgated as being in nonattainment of air quality standards. Following the marginal label, the group looks forward to working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and DEQ toward cleaner air.
“After years of delay, the EPA has now acknowledged the unhealthy ozone pollution plaguing Sublette County and is requiring that it be eliminated,” CURED Chairperson Elaine Crumpley said, later adding, “We welcome the agency’s action and look forward to working with state and federal officials in ensuring that the Upper Green River Basin’s unlawful ozone pollution is adequately addressed.”
The Upper Green River Alliance also made a statement.
“Every day, I wonder whether the simple act of breathing will limit my lifespan,” Executive Director Linda Baker said in the release. “I believe the BLM and DEQ should be requiring industry to do a better job minimizing air pollution in the valley.”
Oil and natural gas developers are also aware of the designation. Encana Public and Community Relations Advisor Randy Teeuwen said that while the development is “not new,” the company has been working with the community, DEQ and EPA to help get the area into attainment.
“We’ve been certainly preparing for it. Our plan is to continue to reduce emissions,” he said. “That’s always been our plan. We’re going to keep on reducing emissions. We don’t want anything in the atmosphere, in the air. We’ve got a good plan in place.” For the complete article see the 05-11-2012 issue.
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