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Release Date: 04/17/1997
Contact Information: Alice Kaufman, EPA Press Office (617) 918-1064

Boston --- The New England office of the Environmental Protection Agency today disapproved portions of Rhode Island's air pollution reduction plan. The disapproval was published in the Federal Register today.

The goal of the state's air quality plan was to reduce the amount of one class of pollutants known collectively as hydrocarbons, by 15 percent when compared to a 1990 baseline. Rhode Island, along with the other New England States (except Vermont) was required by the 1990 amendments to the Federal Clean Air Act to prepare such plans in an effort to mitigate the severity of the summertime smog problem that often afflicts the Northeast.

The EPA has disapproved a major portion of the state's plan due to the failure of the state to implement a motor vehicle emission inspection and maintenance program. This program would result in significant reductions in harmful air pollutants and would account for greater reductions than any other component detailed in the state plan. The state's air emission reduction plan details strategies that Rhode Island had planned to use to reduce hydrocarbon emissions to the air. EPA's action approves sections of the state's plan which EPA believes will generate air emission reductions. However, EPA believes that without an auto emissions testing program, the state fails to meet the air quality objectives of the Clean Air Act.

"Rhode Island's failure to implement this key portion of their plan, which is an automobile emissions testing program, means that 40% of the air pollution reductions required by the Clean Air Act will not be achieved. We are working with the state to help get this program off the ground, and we look forward to its implementation," said John P. DeVillars, EPA's New England administrator.

Rhode Island is in "serious nonattainment" of the ozone (smog) standard, which is currently set at 0.12 parts per million.

Ozone is the component of smog that has been identified as causing the most serious adverse health impacts. Exposure to high ozone levels damages lung tissue and impairs breathing, particularly among the young, elderly, asthmatics, and people who spend significant amounts of time working outdoors during the summer months.

Since 1986 numerous published studies have documented health and ecological impacts of ground level ozone at levels lower than the current standard. Scientists are also concerned about exposure to ozone at lower levels for longer than on hour, which is the averaging period for the current standard. In November of last year, EPA proposed that the current ozone standard be revised to be more protective of public health.

The disapproval by EPA of the state's plan has significant ramifications for the state. If the problems are not remedied within 18 months, the first of two sanctions would be imposed on Rhode Island. The first sanction is a requirement that industry obtain more air emission "offsets" than is typically required to locate new, or expand existing facilities in the state. The second sanction would restrict the amount of federal highway funds that the state is eligible to receive, and would be triggered six months after the first sanction.

"There is one clear alternative to federal sanctions for Rhode Island's clean air plan. That is to put in place a consumer friendly, environmentally efficient automobile inspection and maintenance program. The result will be substantial clean air quality benefits for the citizens of the state," said DeVillars.