Wyoming DEQ Blocks University Research on Ozone

Click here to read Dustin Bliezeffer’s article in Wyo File.  CURED is prominately quoted in this article.

“Too Special to Drill”

The Stanford Rural West Project



Published in Casper Star Tribune, Casper, Wyonming, April 21, 2013

DEQ’s Strategy Plan Good but Not Sufficient

Some would believe that DEQ’s newly released “Ozone Strategy Plan” is a comprehensive, good response to Sublette and parts of Sweetwater and Lincoln County’s status of non-attainment. However, others see it as too little, too late.

The DEQ’s new “Strategy Plan” is in response to events of two years ago–the March 2011 ground-level ozone exceedences found in Sublette County which finally rendered the area in federal violation of the Clean Air Act. In 2011, Sublette County experienced 23 days of unhealthy to very unhealthy air (76 – 116 ppb), even though it was, and still is the least populated region in the lower U.S. It also received the dubious distinction of containing some of the dirtiest air in the nation. Two years exceeds a reasonable amount of time to begin remediation of this situation. We should be well underway with practical measures to solve the problems.

A year ago, a good idea was put into action. The Upper Green River Basin Citizen’s Ozone Advisory Task Force was formed. Governor appointed members were challenged with the specific task to come up with recommendations to reduce ozone. Membership was composed among many diverse interest groups; industry, natural resource agencies, local citizens, state and local government representatives, and environmental organizations. This good idea was led by University of Wyoming’s Ruckelshaus Institute and was based on consensus-making recommendations to the DEQ last September. Regulations were the top items recommended. Five months later, the DEQ issued a letter that included the following suggestions: Brownbag your lunch, don’t drive, don’t idle, don’t run your small gas-powered engines and observe ozone action days. While these strategies are all good ideas for communities to do their part, they are far from adequate in terms of real solutions when faced with the daunting task of reducing ozone precursor emissions in a major gas industry production site that is in non-attainment.

Citizens United for Responsible Energy Development believes the process of getting out of non-attainment requires DEQ’s “Strategy Plan” to be more proactive. While regulatory action is critically needed, the recently released “Strategy” commits only to START gathering information in the next six months. So far, DEQ’s actions and efforts (or lack thereof) have been reactive rather than proactive.

Another major shortcoming, the newly unveiled “Strategy Plan” wholly ignores problems arising from the DEQ’s Interim Policy of 2008; a good policy at the time, but unfortunately it was proven insufficient by the 2011 ozone season and the exceedences experienced during that winter. CURED has, for two years, been asking DEQ to revise this policy – which is resulting in pollution increases since 2011 and therefore counterproductive to the aims of the “Strategy.”

It is also disappointing that Task Force Recommendations relating to reducing drill rig and frac engine emissions are not included in the DEQ’s action for the short-term category, as outlined in the “Strategy Plan.” Rather than indefinitely postponing these topics, DEQ could initiate meeting with BLM with an eye toward implementing these measures under land management agency authority in the short-term action plans. Partnering with BLM could be an effective and expedient “interim” tool for the short-term, controlling emissions as rulemaking and other more time-consuming approaches are in progress.

Wyoming DEQ is the only agency with regulatory authority for Wyoming air quality programs. Regulatory changes are needed now, not later. Policy revisions and regulatory changes are plainly overdue. Why aren’t they placed in the short-term category of the “Strategy Plan?”

The objective is to get out of and stay out of non-attainment, not only under the current situation, but also in light of the future increased levels of activity and the possible lowering of the national ozone standard in the very near future. What will happen to industry? How are they going to continue development without new regulatory rules in place soon? What will happen to the local economy if we face draconian measures simply because we failed to be aggressive now? It would greatly benefit everyone involved if the area was cleared of non-attainment regulations and restrictive policies. Non-attainment hurts everyone; the health of the public; the local economy; energy industry production; and obviously the environment.

The DEQ’s Strategy Plan is a good beginning, but certainly can and should create more immediate solutions to serious health, environmental and economical problems that we are facing now and into the future.

Elaine Crumpley
CURED Chairperson