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EPA TO DISAPPROVE RHODE ISLAND AIR POLLUTION REDUCTION PLAN

Release Date: 11/12/1996
Contact Information: Lucy Edmondson, Office of the Regional Administrator, (617) 918-1004 Robert McConnell, Air Quality Planning, (617) 565-9266

Boston - In a move that could restrict federal highway funds for Rhode Island, EPA's New England Administrator John P. DeVillars today announced that the EPA proposed to disapprove Rhode Island's 15 percent air pollution reduction plan, saying it failed to meet federal emissions reduction requirements.

The EPA action was taken primarily because Rhode Island does not have a motor vehicle emission inspection and maintenance (I/M) program. This program would result in significant reductions in harmful air pollutants and would account for greater reductions than any other component detailed in the state plan - nearly 40 percent of the total reductions. The state's 15 percent plan details strategies that Rhode Island had planned to use to reduce hydrocarbon emissions to the air. EPA believes that without a vehicle I/M program, the state fails to meet the air quality objectives of the federal Clean Air Act.

"The state has failed to move forward on the key portion of their plan -- one that would achieve 40% of the air pollution reductions required by the Clean Air Act. Without an auto emissions testing program or an equivalent initiative, the state isn't meeting its responsibilities to do its part for cleaner air," said DeVillars.

Rhode Island is in "serious nonattainment" of the ozone standard, which is currently set at .12 parts per million (ppm). Ozone is the component of smog that has been identified as causing the most serious adverse health impacts. Exposure to high ozone levels damages lung tissue and impairs breathing, particularly among the young, elderly, asthmatics, and construction workers and others who work outdoors.

Since 1986 numerous published studies have documented health and ecological impacts of ground level ozone at levels lower than the current standard. Scientists are also concerned about exposure to ozone at lower levels for longer than one-hour, which is the averaging period for the current standard. EPA is currently reviewing the standard for ozone and particulate matter and is considering whether it is necessary to change the standard to be more protective of public health.

The proposal by EPA to disapprove the state's plan has significant ramifications for the state. If the problems are not remedied within 18 months of a final disapproval action, which will be published after a 30-day public comment period, the first of two sanctions would be imposed on Rhode Island. The first sanction is a requirement that industry obtain more air pollution "offsets" than is typically required to locate new or expand existing facilities in the state. The second sanction would restrict the amount of federal highway funds that the state is eligible to receive, and would be triggered 6 months after the first sanction.

Although the EPA proposed to disapprove the state's hydrocarbon reduction plan, other portions of the state's overall air quality program have been approved. The approved programs include the baseline inventory of air pollutant sources that lead to smog formation, and an air monitoring network that will provide valuable information on the concentrations of these pollutants in the atmosphere.