Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt this week sent a letter to state governors to inform them that the state deadlines of a 2015 program intended to reduce smog-causing ozone emissions will be extended by one year.

Critics have called the Obama Administration’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards for state ozone emissions one if its most costly and burdensome environmental rules.

“States have made tremendous progress and significant investment cleaning up the air. We will continue to work with states to ensure they are on a path to compliance,” Pruitt said in a statement.

The National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ground-level ozone is an outdoor air regulation under the Clean Air Act.  As part of the process to determine what areas of the country are able to meet the current air quality standards, states are currently submitting their proposals for area designations under the 70 parts per billion standard, which was lowerd from 75 ppb in 2015.  

Areas designated as being in “nonattainment” of the standard face consequences, including: increased regulatory burdens, restrictions on infrastructure investment, and increased costs to businesses.

The EPA is giving states more time to develop air quality plans and is looking at providing greater flexibility as they develop those plans. Pursuant to the language in the recently enacted FY2017 Omnibus funding bill, Pruitt is establishing an Ozone Cooperative Compliance Task Force to develop additional flexibilities for states to comply with the ozone standard.

The EPA is also “taking time to better understand some lingering, complicated issues so that air attainment decisions can be based on the latest and greatest information.” The additional time “will also provide the agency time to review the 2015 ozone NAAQS, prior to taking this initial implementation step.”

“Although the new ozone standard was set on October 1, 2015, there remains a host of complex issues that could undermine associated compliance efforts by states and localities,” Pruitt wrote. The EPA is evaluating these issues, primarily focused on: fully understanding the role of background ozone levels; and appropriately accounting for international transport.

Since 1980, total emissions of the six principal air pollutants have dropped by 63 percent and ozone levels have declined by 33 percent. Despite the continued improvement of air quality, costs associated with compliance of the ozone NAAQS have significantly increased, the EPA statement says.

Also in the world of environmental regulations this week, the Environmental Defense Fund and other health and environmental groups filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to block Pruitt and the EPA from “stripping away vital air pollution safeguards for thousands of industrial sources in the oil and gas sector.”

The move, they said, “would create an immediate and irreversible public health and environmental threat for communities and families across our nation.”

Eralier this month, the EPA announced it will stay rules intended to curb methane emissions from oil and gas explorations, in particular fracking projects and both new and modified wells.

The performance standard imposed by the Obama Administration last year establishes new source performance standards for greenhouse gas emissions and volatile organic compound emissions from the oil and natural gas sector. Among the requirements was to detect and repair leaks of methane and other pollutants, certifying those fixes by a professional engineer.

More than 18,000 wells and compressor stations in 22 states are subject to the requirements, including more than 11,000 in states that lack any separate state leak detection programs.

After promising to reconsider the fugitive emission requirements, Pruitt issued a 90-day stay to halt federal leak detection and repair requirements that were scheduled to take full effect on June 3. He said he may soon propose to extend the stay indefinitely.

“Pruitt’s action creates a loophole in compliance obligations for thousands of wells across the country during the peak of smog season — allowing smog-forming volatile organic compounds, cancer-causing benzene and dangerous methane pollution to be emitted in extensive quantities with imminent and irreversible harms to public health and the environment,” the environmental groups said. Their “emergency lawsuit urges the court to swiftly block Administrator Pruitt’s action in light of its imminent harms to public health and the environment.

According to the brief filed by the health and environmental organizations on June 5: “These are Administrator Pruitt’s first steps towards suspending, revising, or rescinding the entire Rule … The Administrator has no authority to issue the stay and cause this irreparable harm. Promulgated rules remain in effect unless and until they are validly changed through the Clean Air Act’s enhanced rulemaking procedures … Those procedures do not allow EPA to stay or suspend an existing rule during a rulemaking to modify or repeal it … The action was patently unlawful, the irreparable harm to the public is serious, and the burden on industry is minimal.”

The lawsuit was filed by the Environmental Defense Fund as well as the Clean Air Council, the Clean Air Task Force, Earthworks, the Environmental Integrity Project, Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council.