EPA designates areas non-compliant with 2015 ozone standards
EPA AdministratorScott Pruitt of Oklahoma speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday identified 51 areas in 22 states that do not currently meet federal ozone requirements, a step toward carrying out national air quality standards for ozone that were issued in 2015.

The announcement comes after a federal court in March ordered the EPA to implement the agency’s 2015 ozone standards and designate areas in the country that do not meet them.

The agency had until April 30 to comply with the order from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

 “Following the data and the law, today’s designations reflect continued progress in addressing ground-level ozone and its precursors,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement.

Sixteen state attorneys general as well as a coalition of environmental groups sued last autumn to force Pruitt to meet the deadline and implement the smog standards.

The EPA said that it followed state recommendations when identifying 51 nonattainment areas in 22 states and the District of Columbia, but noted that the agency acknowledges that high levels of background ozone are often “outside the control of state and tribal air agencies.”

In November 2017, the EPA identified that most areas of the United States meet ozone standards. It is currently completing nearly all remaining area designations.

 Once areas are designated, state and local authorities need to craft implementation plans detailing how those areas will attain the standards by reducing air pollutant emissions.

The EPA said there are more than 10 percent fewer counties being designated as nonattainment compared to designations issued in 2012 for the 2008 standards.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; editing by Diane Craft