On June 6, 2017, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt sent a letter to the nation’s governors, informing them that EPA is extending the deadline for promulgating initial area designations, by one year, for the 2015 ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards (“NAAQS”). The Obama Administration promulgated new ozone NAAQS in October 2015, lowering the standards from 75 parts per billion to 70 parts per billion. Under the Clean Air Act, EPA had two years, or until October 1, 2017, to designate areas in the U.S. as being in attainment or nonattainment with the new ozone NAAQS. Administrator Pruitt’s one-year extension pushes the deadline for those designation to October 1, 2018.

As we previously reported, the 2015 ozone NAAQS have been challenged in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit by various states, companies, and environmental organizations in the case of Murray Energy Corp. v. EPA, Case No. 15-1385. On April 11, 2017, the D.C. Circuit Court granted EPA’s motion to continue oral argument and indefinitely delay any decision on challenges to the 2015 ozone NAAQS. In its motion, EPA stated that it was “closely reviewing the 2015 [ozone NAAQS] Rule to determine whether the Agency should reconsider the rule or some part of it.” The D.C. Circuit’s order directed EPA to submit status reports every 90 days.

The press release announcing EPA’s decision to extend this initial deadline explains the agency’s justification for the extension.

The Agency is taking time to better understand some lingering, complicated issues so that air attainment decisions can be based on the latest and greatest information. This additional time will also provide the agency time to review the 2015 ozone NAAQS, prior to taking this initial implementation step.

In his letter to state governors, Administrator Pruitt stated that:

States have made tremendous progress and significant investment cleaning up the air. Since 1980, total emissions of the six principal air pollutants have dropped by 63 percent and ozone levels have declined by 33 percent. Despite the continued improvement of air quality, costs associated with compliance of the ozone NAAQS have significantly increased. I am committed to working with you and your local officials to effectively implement the ozone standard in a manner that is supportive of your air quality improvement efforts, without interfering with local decisions or impeding economic growth.

Once again, EPA’s actions indicate it is considering whether it can and should scale back the ozone NAAQS, potentially to the 75 parts per billion levels set back in 2008.