Stricter Ozone Standards Could Affect Urban Development

EPA’s new ozone standards will affect urban areas sooner than you think. Tune in now to get a handle on the agency’s attainment designations.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent updates to the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for ozone could change the future playing field for land development and residential construction. On October 26, 2015, EPA published its   in the Federal Register, lowering the ozone standard from 75 parts per billion (ppb) set in 2008 to 70 ppb.

Land development and residential construction activities are not typically regulated under the Clean Air Act (CAA), as compared to the Clean Water Act where wetlands and stormwater permits are required. But a more stringent standard increases the likelihood that many local areas which don’t meet the new standard will increasingly look to home development to help them achieve it.   will hold true in both new areas that cannot attain the new standard without traditionally regulated sectors, as well as previously designated areas, where emission reductions from traditionally regulated sectors have already been counted toward compliance with earlier versions of the standard.

Implications for Builders and Developers

For those not familiar with the CAA, this may seem like an extremely protracted process, with compliance dates in 2020 and 2037. Even though certain localities won’t have to meet the standard for many years, states will begin to make compliance decisions as early as next year, once EPA finalizes nonattainment designations and states start developing SIPS. These plans must outline how a nonattainment area will meet the standard by the required date. States have recommended an attainment or nonattainment designation for all areas of the state and the associated boundaries for those areas.


  • By June 1, 2017: EPA responds to states’ initial recommendations and identifies where the agency intends to modify the recommendations. States will have the opportunity to comment on EPA’s response, and to provide new information and analyses for EPA to consider.
  • By October 1, 2017: EPA issues final area designations; those designations would likely be based on 2014-2016 air quality data.
  • 2020 to 2021: For nonattainment areas classified as “moderate” and above, states complete their implementation plans, outlining how they will reduce pollution to meet the standards. State plans can include federal measures, and any local or statewide measures needed to demonstrate that a nonattainment area will meet the standards by its attainment date.
  • 2020 to 2037: Nonattainment areas will be required to meet the primary (health) standard, with varying deadlines, depending on the severity of an area’s ozone problem.

Among the federal pollution control requirements that nonattainment areas must adopt is a strategy to align transportation planning with the emissions reduction requirements developed under a SIP . Despite increases in vehicle miles traveled (VMT), increased automobile efficiencies have resulted in lower transportation-related emissions overall. But California is an exception. Following litigation in the Ninth Circuit, the state must now incorporate programs to reduce VMT, in addition to emissions from automobiles, as part of the SIP for the ozone standard. This will likely limit new investments in transportation infrastructure and favor housing development in existing urban areas.

Some good news was included in the   signed by the President on December 4, 2015. Transportation funding targeted at nonattainment areas, through the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) Program for 2016-20, will increase by approximately $190 million over those five years. However, just how much relief that funding can provide depends greatly on how many nonattainment areas are eventually designated by EPA.

To date, implementation of other policies has been limited, but proposals which impact local development could include impact fees or other restrictions to account for emissions associated with new home projects.

The full article, written by Tamra Spielvogel, can be found in the Summer 2016 Issue of Best in American Living.


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