March 2014: How Should We Regulate Indiana’s Air?

In short there are two ways to regulate the air quality in Indiana. These are proactively or reactively. This article will describe the two approaches and the advantages and disadvantages of each approach. It will not indicate a preference.

We regulate the air quality in Indiana for two primary reasons. First, we want Hoosiers to enjoy air quality levels that are better than the national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) establishes. Keeping air quality levels below these standards ensures that our citizens are breathing air that is healthy. When we have levels that exceed these standards, we work with industry and U.S. EPA to put together plans that will bring the air quality back to levels that are acceptable.

The second reason that we want good air quality is that it is much easier to permit new industries or modifications of existing industries if the air quality is deemed to be attaining the national standards. Tougher permitting rules apply in areas that do not meet the national standards. For a state that wants to retain current businesses and to attract new businesses, this is an important issue.

Under the proactive approach, the state would try to determine the progress of U.S. EPA establishing new standards and would compare this to the current air quality to determine whether areas of the state would not meet these new standards. If it was felt that there would be nonattainment areas in the future, the state would begin rulemaking to put measures into place that would lower emissions and, hopefully, result in levels that would be below the new standard. The advantage of this approach is that it would result in cleaner air sooner. If done quickly enough, it could result in avoiding areas being above the new standards. Once an area is designated nonattainment, it can take five or more years for it to be designated attainment again. The disadvantages of this approach are that it is hard to predict what level U.S. EPA will establish for a new standard, or when this will happen. Given little notice, there is insufficient time to establish new measures that can lower emissions in time to make a difference before an area would be designated nonattainment. Industry would be required to install new controls or make changes prior to the federal rule requiring the needed measures. Thus they would be at a financial disadvantage compared to other areas or states.

Indiana has rarely carried out proactive measures. A few examples of when it was done was to control architectural/industrial maintenance coatings, to lower emissions from consumer commercial products, and to apply Stage 1 and degreasing rules statewide. These measures were all aimed at lowering statewide ozone levels.

The second approach is reactive. Under this approach the state would wait until an area has been designated as nonattainment and then would begin the process of developing measures to lower emissions and bring the area back into attainment. The advantage of this approach is that there is more certainty.

You know what level U.S. EPA has selected for a standard. The disadvantage is that the time the area will be nonattainment will be extended because it will take time to pass rules, put those measures into place, measure three years of clean air quality data, develop and submit a plan to U.S. EPA, and then wait on U.S. EPA approval. This process will take more than five years to accomplish.

The proposed “No More Stringent Than” bill would have prohibited IDEM from using the proactive approach. I am sure that this issue will surface again next session. At that time, hopefully all of the facts can be debated so that whatever solution is arrived at, it will have been well thought through.

The following fact sheets offer more information about the regulations mentioned in this article: