La. officials deny EPA violation claim

State environmental quality officials said Tuesday that they followed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s instructions on submitting a plan to reduce ozone, but they are unsure why Louisiana was included on a list of states that failed to do so.

On Jan. 4, the EPA sent notices of failure to 28 states while also acknowledging that the letters are the result of unclear guidance from the federal agency. A court order in October also forced the EPA to tell states that they had failed to submit State Implementation Plans outlining how they would meet a lower ozone standard at 75 parts per billion, according to the notices.

“That’s (the notice of failure) typically a very bad thing. That means we didn’t do something required by law,” said Sam Phillips, assistant secretary of the state Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Environmental Services.

But DEQ followed the EPA’s instructions throughout the ozone reconsideration process and submitted its draft State Implementation Plan in early December, Phillips said.

He said he did not know why Louisiana received a failure notice since its draft plan was submitted before the EPA’s January deadline to send out the letters.

“We submitted everything we were supposed to, but we still got a finding of failure,” Phillips said.

The Jan. 4 notice states that the EPA recognizes that many states would have turned in their State Implementation Plans on time if it wasn’t for the uncertainty of the deadline because of EPA’s reconsideration of the ozone standard, the advice to states during the interim and a lack of guidance from the EPA about what the plans should include.

EPA was unable to provide an answer as to why Louisiana was included in the list for notice of failure by deadline Tuesday evening.

Phillips said there’s no fine or other consequence from the notice of failure, but it’s troubling that DEQ will have it on the department’s record.

The current issue started in March 2008, when EPA put out a new standard for ozone pollution that lowered it to 75 parts per billion from the previous 80 ppb. That announcement started a clock that gave states three years to get their State Implementation Plans, showing how they would meet that new standard.

However, in September 2009, the EPA said this lower standard would be reviewed with the possibility that it could be lowered further.

Phillips said DEQ staff asked the EPA if they should still submit their State Implementation Plan for the 75 ppb level and were told not to because the plan wouldn’t be reviewed by the EPA since the standard might change.

However, in September 2011 — six months after the three-year deadline to submit a plan to EPA under the original ozone standard announcement, the EPA announced that the 2008 standard would be put in place, which meant that the original deadline remained in effect.

Phillips said the state asked and was told by EPA to get its State Implementation Plans for the 75 ppb standard turned into EPA as soon as possible, but no deadline was set.

In October 2012, a lawsuit about State Implementation Plans in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California was decided. As a result, the EPA was court-ordered to take action, including sending findings of failure to submit letters to states that had not turned in their infrastructure State Implementation Plan. The EPA had a deadline of Jan. 4 to send those notices.

“We’re just disappointed it got us to this point because we did what EPA told us to do,” Phillips said. A final State Implementation Plan is expected to be completed by March for EPA approval, he said.

The five-parish Baton Rouge area struggled for years to meet various ozone standards before being recognized by EPA in 2011 as being in compliance with the 8-hour standard at 80 ppb.

Only one monitor in the five-parish Baton Rouge area shows readings above the new 75 ppb standard, according to information collected from 2008 through 2010.

The air monitor at LSU shows it to be at 78 parts per billion, according to information from DEQ.

The ozone measurements are calculated by taking the fourth highest 8-hour-average ozone reading of the year and averaging three years of those readings.