Home > Uncategorized > Murphy DEP Seeking Relief For Violating Clean Air Ozone Standards – Blames Wildfires As “Exceptional Events”

Murphy DEP Seeking Relief For Violating Clean Air Ozone Standards – Blames Wildfires As “Exceptional Events”

Wildfires Caused By The “Prescribed Burns” DEP Supports

DEP Emphasizes Climate Change And Environmental Justice In Press Releases, But Downplays For Regulatory Compliance Purposes

Source: NJ DEEP SIP. Image courtesy of rileycountyks.gov

Source: NJ DEP SIP. Image courtesy of rileycountyks.gov

The Murphy DEP just submitted to EPA for review and approval a proposed State Implementation Plan (SIP) Revision for the Attainment and Maintenance of the Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

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Ozone causes health problems because it damages lung tissue, reduces lung function, and sensitizes the lungs to other irritants. Ozone has long been known to increase the incidence of asthma attacks in susceptible individuals. Ozone exposure also makes the lungs more vulnerable to lung diseases such as pneumonia and bronchitis. Ozone not only affects people withs impaired respiratory systems, such as asthmatics, but healthy adults and children as well. Exposure to ozone for several hours at relatively low concentrations significantly reduces lung function and induces respiratory inflammation in normal, healthy people during exercise. This decrease in lung function is generally accompanied by symptoms such as chest pain, coughing, sneezing, and pulmonary congestion. Recent research in southern California strongly suggests that, in addition to exacerbating existing asthma, ozone also causes asthma in children.39 Longer-term exposure to ozone can also lead to scarring of the lung tissue and permanent reductions in lung capacity.40 Long-term exposure to ozone can eventually lead to premature death.41

The Murphy DEP touts their commitment to Environmental Justice, but the facts belie that commitment. Check this out: NO air quality monitoring in Newark!

The NJDEP currently measures ozone concentrations at 16 sites in New Jersey. Seventeen sites were running prior to September 2022. The Newark Firehouse site was closed in September 2022 and NJDEP is currently working on re-establishing a new monitor in Newark City. (@ page 2-1)

The proposed SIP seeks delay in EPA enforcement of NJ’s failure to attain the 70 ppb 8 hour ozone NAAQS by exploiting a loophole in the Clean Air Act. Amazingly, the Murphy DEP is blaming wildfires for NJ’s failure to meet the NAAQS. (17 days in 2023. Only 4 days due to wildfire smoke. Violations will increase as a result of global warming, again, something DEP highlights in press releases, but downplays for regulatory purposes):

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The SIP is another example of a jumble of DEP conflicting policies that work at cross purposes and harm public health and the environment. Let me drill down, but not too deep in the weeds.

The DEP aggressively supports “prescribed burns” as a key method of forest management and wildfire prevention. The prescribed burns are purportedly designed to reduce “fuel” in the forest that DEP falsely claims drives wildfires.

DEP exempts “prescribed burns” from clean air regulatory requirements, e.g. air pollution permits are not required and the air pollution created by these fires is not counted in DEP’s air pollution inventory.

DEP never talks about the serious air pollution and public health impacts created by prescribed burns.

The DEP never mentions the fact that prescribed burns can get out of control and cause wildfires.

The Legislature even passed and Gov. Murphy signed a law that eliminates liability for damages caused if a prescribed burn gets out of control.

Similarly, the DEP constantly talks about climate change and extreme weather, yet rarely if ever talks about the fact that climate change is the key factor in causing more frequent and intense wildfires.

DEP prescribed burns have comparatively little or no impact on preventing wildfires, because the causes are related to climate change and factors like high wind, low humidity, and drought, not fuel buildup in the forest. That’s right: DEP is polluting the air, harming human health and damaging forest ecosystems for little if any benefit).

With that context in mind, it is a stunning contradiction that the Murphy DEP is now blaming wildfires for the State’s failure to attain the federal Clean Air Act ground level ozone standards.

The DEP just submitted NJ’s State Implementation Plan (SIP) revision to meet the 70 ppm 8 hour ozone standard.

NJ is not in attainment with that ozone standard and as a could face EPA sanctions, like polluters having to reduce pollution and buy expensive pollution offsets, or losing federal highway construction money: (SIP, p. 1-2)

CAA Section 179 (or 42 U.S.C. §7509) requires sanctions when a State fails to submit a timely and approvable plan or fails to fully implement its commitments. First, the State could face serious economic development constraints. Specifically, the USEPA could order that any proposed new air pollution source in the State secure double the offset of the emissions it might produce before it can be permitted. Second, the State could be subjected to sanctions that could result in the loss of New Jersey’s Federal transportation funds.

Buried in the fine print of the DEP proposed SIP is an effort to exploit a loophole in the Clean Air Act, which allows States to argue that “exceptional events” beyond their control caused the State to fail to meet ozone standards, known as “National Ambient Air Quality Standards”

Remarkably, one of the wildfires that DEP blames for NJ air pollution violations was caused by a prescribed burn that got out of control: (DEP “Exceptional Event Demonstration” (@ page 4)

3. Wildfire Description
In spring 2023, numerous fires burned across the grassy Flint Hills region of eastern Kansas. Evidence from satellite imagery shows fire activity started to accelerate in late March and early April due to widespread drought conditions across the plains.6 Strong winds, unseasonably warm air temperatures, and extremely dry prairie grasses created a favorable environment for large and small wildfires to spread in Kansas between late March and early April 2023. Some fires were spread due to escaped fires that were ignited to manage land.7 According to the Riley County government website, multiple major fires in Riley County between April 6-10, were prescribed burns that got out of control.

That’s right: The DEP is blaming out of State wildfires, caused by the damaging and ineffective prescribed burns they promote in-state, while ignoring the primary cause of wildfires, which is climate change, DEP’s highest priority.

You can’t make this stuff up.

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