Ability for States to Set Clean Air Standards
States and localities have the authority to elevate the standards set up by the Clean Air Act, based on Section 116 of the Act, as long as these standards are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency through the State Implementation Plan process. Nevada and Colorado are examples of states with more stringent air quality standards than the ones established nationally.
What the Federal Clean Air Act (CAA) Says?
- According to the book "Non-degradation Policy of the Clean Air Act: Hearing, Ninety-third Congress", section 116 of the federal Clean Air Act allows each State to set standards that are more strict than the national standard.
- Section 116 indicates that each State has the authority to enforce and establish more stringent regulations and standards when it comes to air quality, even if those are more strict than the ones provided by EPA.
- However, while the Act gives the authority to elevate the standards, it does not give authority to reduce the national air quality standard levels to the States or localities.
- The CAA says that each State is responsible for developing its plans and initiatives to comply with the national standards and follow up on the implementation.
- The national air quality standards are provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
- A complete copy of the Clean Air Act can be found on EPA's website, as well as the entire Section 116.
- Additionally, the government of the US created the Air Now website so its residents can review the air quality status of the different States and localities and the regulations for each region.
State Implementation Plan (SIP) Process
- When a new National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) is implemented in the country, each State is required to create a State Implementation Plan (SIP) that indicates if they will follow the standard provided and how, or if they will set up their own standards based on this new limitation.
- The plan must be created by the State's Government and the State's environmental agency in charge of air quality and submitted for approval to EPA, to demonstrate that 1) the State has programs in place to comply with the basic requirements or the standards set up by them, and 2) the control mechanism to follow up on those programs.
- Within two years of creating the new NAAQS, the State determines the attainment areas to implement their standards based on the air monitoring tests they presented to EPA. Also, EPA will designate areas they considered that need to be included.
- During the next 36 months, each area will present their strategies to comply with the standards and be evaluated to control the air quality.
- All plans should be available publicly, submitted to EPA, and approved.
- During the approval period, the public can provide their input about the plan, which will be taken into consideration before deciding if the plan is approved or not.
- Once approved, the State can follow up on the plan and use these measures in federal court; however, if the plan is not approved, EPA provides a federal implementation plan (FIP) instead.
States/Localities Implementing Stricter Standards
- At the moment, there are 22 states, besides California and the Columbia District suing the government to continue using quality standards that are more stringent than the national standards, especially focused on car emissions.
- The 22 states and localities suing for their use of more strict air quality standards are the localities of Los Angeles, and the City of New York; and the States of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
- Thirteen of these states follow California's emissions standards, while the other nine have their own air quality standards.
- For example, the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP) created the Clean Diesel Program, intended to establish more stringent standards in the Cities of Reno and Clark County to reduce Diesel emission.
- Also, Colorado has created its own Low Emission Vehicles regulation with air quality standards that are more strict than national standards but are concerned about having their standards rollback to national standards if allowed by the federal government.