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GREEN RIVER -The Wyoming Environmental Quality Council is expected to decide today on a request to establish stricter air quality standards for ozone pollution in Sublette County.

A Pinedale citizens' group petitioned the seven-member EQC in May.

The council's hearing this morning in Cheyenne is the final part of a process that will determine whether the board will recommend to Gov. Dave Freudenthal that the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality make a change in the level of the eight-hour primary and secondary ambient air quality standards for ozone.

Making their case

Citizens for Responsible Energy Development, the Wyoming Outdoor Council and Western Resource Advocates made their case for the ozone standard change during an EQC hearing in Rock Springs in June.

The petitioners are asking the board to consider requiring the state DEQ to stop using the current federal ozone standard that limits ozone pollution to no more than 75 parts per billion during any given eight-hour period.

The groups are asking the DEQ to instead use a lower ambient air quality standard of 65 ppb. The lower standard, the groups contend, would better protect the health of area residents.

The new standard would also better reflect the current science on ozone pollution and would allow for a better "margin of safety" from ozone pollution, particularly for children, according to the petition.

Sublette County has been plagued by rare, winter-time ozone pollution for the past few years, which has drawn the ire and concern of local residents.

In 2007, state officials issued the first ozone alert for southwest Wyoming.

Ozone levels up

And last year, ozone levels spiked as high as 122 ppb during the winter at the state's Boulder ozone monitoring station.

Ground-level ozone can pose a health threat to children, the elderly and people with respiratory illnesses, according to health officials. Ozone can be particularly damaging to the developing lung tissue in children, researchers say.

Scientists think emissions from motor vehicle exhaust, industrial facilities and other fossil-fuel sources in the lucrative Jonah and Pinedale Anticline gas fields in Sublette County have contributed to the county's ozone problem.

EnCana Oil and Gas, Inc. and other operators in the field have taken the lead in recent years to reduce emissions in the field, including the conversion of hundreds of diesel-powered drilling rigs to natural gas.

The industry has also implemented strict contingency plans aimed at curbing ozone-causing pollutants when state officials predict the atmospheric conditions are ripe for ozone formations.

One result of a new, lower state standard could be stricter emission controls in the Jonah and Pinedale Anticline gas fields.

The EPA's air quality standard of 75 ppb during any recorded eight-hour period is being revised at the federal level, but state officials aren't sure if it will be strengthened or weakened.

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Wyoming's ozone problem appears unique to Sublette County, and petitioners are asking that the higher standard only be established for Sublette County.

Earlier this year in response to the growing ozone issue, Freudenthal recommended to the EPA that Sublette County and some surrounding areas be designated as a "non-attainment" area for the national ozone standard.

As part of that process, the state is drafting an implementation plan outlining what measures it will take to achieve acceptable air quality standards within the non-attainment area.

The state Department of Health endorsed the proposed rule change, but other organizations were wary in letters sent to the EQC.

Brent Sherard, director and state health officer for the Department of Health, said that, from a health perspective, less exposure to ozone "leads to a better quality" of life for residents.

Sherard said that, based on the best available scientific information, the department thinks it is in "the best interest of Wyoming residents to have the lowest possible ozone standard."

He said the agency also thinks there should be a statewide standard for ozone levels.

But Sheila Foertsch, managing director of the Wyoming Trucking Association, Inc., said the proposed changes will have both direct and indirect implications for its members.

She urged the commission to defer to the EPA's expertise and experience in deciding what the proper ozone levels should be.

Foertsch noted that recent and upcoming changes in diesel engine regulations have, and will continue to, "dramatically reduce" ozone-forming emissions from diesel engines in the two gas fields.

She said the state's implementation plan for the federal non-attainment area designation is the best way to address current ozone problems in the county.

The state EQC is a citizens advisory group established in 1973 and appointed by the governor. The board is charged with promulgating all rules and regulations necessary for the implementation of the Wyoming Environmental Quality Act.

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