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ARTBA Comments on EPA “Exceptional Events” Rule

ARTBA urges Clean Air Act flexibility for states dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters

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ARTBA Comments on EPA “Exceptional Events” Rule

  1. 1. February 3, 2016 Air Docket Environmental Protection Agency Mail Code: 6102T 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue Washington, D.C. 20460 Attn: Docket ID Number EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0572 Re: Treatment of Data Influenced by Exceptional Events On behalf of the 6,000 members of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), I respectfully offer the following concerning United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed revisions to the federal Clean Air Act (CAA) regulations governing treatment of air quality data influenced by exceptional events. ARTBA’s membership includes private and public sector members that are involved in the planning, designing, construction and maintenance of the nation’s roadways, waterways, bridges, ports, airports, rail and transit systems. Our industry generates more than $380 billion annually in U.S. economic activity and sustains more than 3.3 million American jobs. ARTBA members undertake a variety of activities that are impacted by federal CAA regulations. ARTBA’s public sector members adopt, approve or fund transportation plans, programs or projects under Title 23 U.S.C. and Title 49 U.S.C., while ARTBA’s private sector members plan, design, construct and provide supplies for these federal transportation improvement projects. This document represents the collective views of our 6,000 member companies and organizations. EPA is to be commended for recognizing the potential impact of unanticipated events on the efforts by states and localities to comply with the CAA. This is particularly relevant in the area of transportation conformity, as the consequences of failing to meet federal air quality requirements can mean the withholding of a community’s federal highway funds. As we originally stated when the regulations governing “exceptional events” were first promulgated in 2006, ARTBA feels states should have maximum flexibility when faced with incorporating the effects of incidents such as natural disasters, chemical spills, fires, exceedances due to transported pollution and/or other similar events into air quality monitoring data. As EPA continues to consider how to determine the effects of an “exceptional event” on air quality, ARTBA strongly urges the utilization of a case-by-case approach to such events to allow maximum flexibility for states.
  2. 2. 2 Such a practice would allow states the time they need to deal with the immediate repercussions of an “exceptional event” before addressing CAA requirements. It is counter-intuitive to not allow states the maximum amount of flexibility when dealing with these issues. “Exceptional events” by definition are occurrences that could not be foreseen or controlled. As air quality compliance is almost entirely a planning process, it would be punitive and unreasonable to hold communities responsible for these exceptional events. Failure to provide states maximum flexibility would have real world impacts by jeopardizing transportation infrastructure projects in areas which may be temporarily placed in nonattainment due to the effects of an “exceptional event.” Flexibility for states is important because it could help to minimize needless transportation conformity delays that can endanger transportation infrastructure improvements vital to public health and safety. As “exceptional events” are often very disruptive to air quality, forcing a state to conduct monitoring immediately after such an occurrence will most often result in the area in question being forced out of compliance with the CAA. This, in turn, could cause infrastructure improvements in the area to be jeopardized by a conformity lapse. These infrastructure improvements can cut both harmful emissions and billions of dollars in wasted motor fuel caused by traffic congestion as well as save lives and prevent injuries. Allowing “exceptional events” to force an area out of compliance with the CAA could exacerbate these public health challenges by denying needed federal transportation improvement funds and hamper the recovery from such an event. Further, ARTBA also recommends allowing states to delay submission of air quality data until after they have fully recovered from the event in question. “Exceptional events” are public health and safety issues before they become clean air issues. The immediate response to these situations needs to take precedence over the conformity process. EPA’s proposed rule concerning “exceptional events” highlights a problem underlying the transportation conformity process. This problem is caused by the fact that some have tried to turn it into an exact science, when it is not. Conformity determinations are based on assumptions and computer modeling. All one has to do is to look back at the predictions made during the enactment of the CAA of 1990 to understand that “modeling of future events” often does not reflect reality. This is amplified by the fact that quite often transportation plans and the State Implementation Plans (SIPs) are often out of sync with one another. Largely, this is due to the fact that transportation plans have very long planning horizons and have to be updated periodically, while most air quality SIPs have very short planning horizons and are updated infrequently. Conversely, regional transportation plans must be updated more frequently and are in even greater danger of being thrown out of conformity by an “exceptional event.” As a result, many of the planning assumptions that must be used for conformity determinations of transportation plans and programs are not consistent with the assumptions that were used in the air quality planning process to establish emissions budgets and to determine appropriate control measures. In other words, because transportation plans must use the most recent air quality data, an increase in emissions and possible conformity lapses can occur simply because
  3. 3. 3 the numbers or models relied on in the transportation plan differ from those in the air quality plan—not because an area’s air quality has changed. Part of this is due to the fact that the priority of various transportation projects often changes and every time this occurs, the plan needs to be updated. While many have suggested that the planning horizons should be brought more in sync with one another, an alternative approach that recognizes the inexact science in the process would be to simply allow states greater flexibility in the process. This holds especially true when factoring in the effects of “exceptional events” which cannot, by their very nature, be planned for in any model. Very few conformity lapses occur because a region has a major clean air problem. They occur because one of the parties involved cannot meet a particular deadline. As a result, the conformity process has become a top-heavy bureaucratic exercise that puts more emphasis on “crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s” rather than engaging the public in true transportation planning that is good for the environment and the mobility of a region’s population. In conclusion, ARTBA continues to urge EPA to allow states the maximum flexibility possible when dealing with “exceptional events.” The direct fallout from many of these events can be severe in their own right and states should not also have to bear the additional burden of dealing with a conformity lapse caused by an “exceptional event.” ARTBA remains committed to working with EPA to help to achieve a cleaner environment through the continuation of proven technological and constructive regulatory efforts. Sincerely, T. Peter Ruane President & C.E.O