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EPA requires stronger air quality plan for Phoenix / EPA proposes to disapprove inadequate plan

Release Date: 09/03/2010
Contact Information: Niloufar Glosson, 415-972-3684, 415-328-1143 (mobile), glosson.niloufar@epa.gov

(09/03/10) SAN FRANCISCO - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today proposed to disapprove Maricopa County’s air quality plan because it does not adequately control emissions of coarse particulate matter.

“Phoenix has an air quality problem that EPA is committed to solving. Too many residents in our nation’s 5th largest city suffer from asthma, chronic lung disease and other breathing disorders resulting from particulate air pollution,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “The State’s plan does not achieve the emission reductions needed for Maricopa County. While it does take some steps to control pollution, more aggressive measures are needed to achieve air quality standards.”

The Maricopa area is considered in “nonattainment” for coarse particulate matter (PM-10) — meaning the air quality fails to meet national standards for this pollutant. The State of Arizona submitted a plan in 2007 intended to ensure that coarse particulate matter was reduced by five percent each year until the standard was attained. The State did not correctly inventory the sources of PM-10, resulting in a plan that does not satisfy the requirements of the federal Clean Air Act. Additionally, the State contends that many of the days with poor air quality, when particulates exceed the standards, are due to “exceptional events” such as dust storms. But EPA has determined that a legally significant number of these exceedances were not caused by “exceptional events.”

EPA is proposing to approve those elements of the plan that will help reduce air pollution in the County, including ones regulating leaf blowers, unpaved areas, burning and other sources of particulate matter. However, these elements are not sufficient to approve the entire plan.

Today’s action will be sent to the Federal Register for publication as a proposed rule giving details of the plan’s deficiencies and announcing a 30-day public comment period. EPA will continue to work with State and local officials to provide policy guidance and technical expertise so that a stronger plan can be submitted quickly.

EPA will make its final decision on the plan in early January 2011, after reviewing public comments. Certain sanctions may attach if the plan is disapproved and deficiencies are not corrected in a timely manner. More stringent facility permitting requirements may be imposed after 18 months. After 24 months, highway funding restrictions may be imposed. This should provide sufficient time for the Arizona air quality agencies to fix the plan.

Transportation projects scheduled from 2011-2014 would not be affected, and should be able to continue as planned. Even if funding restrictions are imposed, no transportation dollars will be withheld or lost, rather, the money must be spent on a more limited set of projects until the issues are resolved. In 1999, when EPA notified the State that an earlier version of its PM-10 Plan was not approvable, the State corrected the plan and resubmitted it in 2000. EPA was able to approve the revised plan in time to avoid sanctions.

Airborne particulates are a serious threat to human health. Major concerns include effects on breathing and respiratory systems, damage to lung tissue, cancer, and premature death. The elderly, children, and people with chronic lung disease, influenza, or asthma, are especially sensitive to the effects of particulate matter. A study released in 2009 by Arizona State University showed that when the levels of PM-10 (particulate matter up to 10 micrometers in diameter) in Central Phoenix were high, there was a significant increase in asthma incidents in children.

The nonattainment area is located in the eastern portion of Maricopa County and encompasses the cities of Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale, Tempe, Chandler, Glendale, as well as 17 other jurisdictions and unincorporated County lands. The nonattainment area also includes the town of Apache Junction in Pinal County.

For more information on the Maricopa area PM-10 Plan, please visit:

http://www.epa.gov/region9/air/phoenixpm/index.html

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