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Particulate Matter - Planning Process

Once the state submits a request to designate an area as "nonattainment" for Particulate Matter (PM), the EPA has 18 months to approve the request. In the meantime, the state begins forming plans for reducing PM levels. This is done in close cooperation with local and regional governments as pollution controls are generally enacted at a local level. If EPA approves the state's request for designating an area as "nonattainment," the state has 18 months to submit an "attainment" plan which includes all the controls and programs agreed to by the state and local governments.

  • PM10 - Designation recommendations are generally submitted by a state governor after promulgation of a new or revised standard. However, EPA did not change the 24 hour PM10 standard. Since a state governor can recommend a designation of "nonattainment" at any time, EPA's retention of the PM10 standard allows Alaska to recommend PM10 nonattainment status for rural Alaska.
  • PM2.5 - The revision of the PM2.5 standard means the Fairbanks North Star Borough (FNSB) was designated a nonattainment area for PM2.5, effective date of December 14, 2009 (see chart below).

See the PM2.5 Nonattainment Documents for Alaska for more information.

The following is EPA's schedule for attainment of the PM2.5 National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS). The attainment date for a PM10 nonattainment area will be five years after its designation to nonattainment.

EPA PM2.5 Schedule

Milestone 2006 PM2.5 Primary NAAQS
Promulgation of Standard September 21, 2006
Effective Date of Standard December 18, 2006
State Recommendations to EPA December 18, 2007 (based on 2004-2006 monitoring data)
Final Designations Signature

December 22, 2008 (based on 2005 - 2007 monitoring data) This notice never became effective and was reviewed by the new Administration.

October 8, 2009 (based on 2006 - 2008 monitoring data) Published November 13, 2009.

Effective Date of Designations December 14, 2009 (30 days after publication)
SIPs Due December 14, 2012 (3 yrs after effective date)
Attainment Date December 14, 2014 (No later than 5 years after effective date of designations)
Attainment Date with Extension December 14, 2019 (No later than 10 years after effective date of designations)

PM2.5 - Fine particulate (Smoke / Exhaust)

Numerous scientific studies have linked fine particle pollution exposure to a variety of problems, including:

  • increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing, or difficulty breathing;
  • decreased lung function;
  • aggravated asthma;
  • development of chronic bronchitis;
  • irregular heartbeat;
  • nonfatal heart attacks; and
  • premature death in people with heart or lung disease
fine particulate - wildland fire smoke and road

(Photo by D. Haggstrom, ADF&G)

The agreement by EPA to redesignate an area as nonattainment initiates a number of activities. Generally, the EPA announces an attainment date which considers factors like the severity of pollution problem and the availability and feasibility of pollution controls. EPA publishes the designation notice in the Federal Register and provides at least 30 days for written comment.

EPA determines the attainment date for a new Nonattainment Area as the date attainment can be achieved as quickly as possible. The attainment date can be no later than 5 years from the date of the nonattainment designation. EPA may extend the attainment date if it deems an extension as appropriate. An extension period can be no longer than 10 years from the date of nonattainment designation.

When EPA designates an area as nonattainment, they will establish a schedule for the State to submit a nonattainment plan. The state must submit a plan within 3 years of the nonattainment designation date.

A nonattainment plan must have the following:

  • enforceable emission limitations and control
  • schedules and timetables for compliance
  • plans to establish the operation of air monitoring equipment and collection of data
  • an enforcement program ensuring emission limits are met and controls are used
  • a program to permit stationary sources; funded by a fee program
  • prohibitions against sources emitting air pollution in amounts contributing to nonattainment status and interfering with maintenance of an air quality standard
  • program to prevent sources from significantly deteriorating air quality, known as a prevention of significant deterioration
  • program to protect visibility
  • methods to comply with rules on interstate and international pollution reduction  

Any plan must assure the State and local government has adequate personnel, funding, and legal authority to carry out the nonattainment plan. The State will rely on local or regional governments or agencies to implement plan provisions. Not only is working with local communities the right thing to do, it is required by the Clean Air Act.   The state then must measure effectiveness of plan provisions. EPA may require installation, maintenance, and replacement of monitoring equipment. The EPA may require reports on type and levels of emissions and on emission data from stationary sources. These reports allow the state, EPA, and public to compare emissions to standards and determine plan effectiveness.

A nonattainment plan must list specific requirements to implement if an area fails to make reasonable progress toward, or attain the standard, by the attainment date. These requirements are meant to occur automatically, without action by State or EPA.

EPA may find the nonattainment plan inadequate or may change air quality standards. If EPA finds a state plan inadequate, the state must submit revisions to the plan. The state must correct deficiencies specified by the EPA and meet all other plan requirements. EPA may adjust dates associated with the nonattainment plan to account for the changes. If EPA relaxes an air quality standard, they have a year to issue new requirements for those areas that failed to attain the standard by the date of the change. EPA will require controls which are at least as stringent as the controls used before the standard change.

Thus, there must be flexibility built into the plan. There should be provisions allowing changes to the plan if air quality standards change or if the EPA finds the plan to be inadequate. There should also be provisions for an emergency. Government must have the authority to quickly stop those responsible for a pollution source that is an imminent and substantial danger to public health, welfare, or environment. The plan must have methods for the state to consult with local governments and public on any plan changes. Finally, the nonattainment plan must allow for air quality modeling if requested by EPA.

The two 18 month periods covering EPA review and state planning means it takes at least 3 years from the state recommending nonattainment to when controls are put into place. The state and local governments will have five years after that to bring Nonattainment Areas into attainment before federal action occurs. Overall, this means it may take up to 8 years to see air quality come into compliance; longer if an extension is needed and approved.

Conversely, an area newly designated as a nonattainment area can be pro-active during the nonattainment process. The community can conduct studies, determine how to decrease the PM2.5 or PM10 levels, and work to come into compliance prior to the attainment deadline. Consequently, the community would not have to put additional control measures into effect as the area would be in attainment. Also, this would avoid the need for the PM conformity process for federal projects.

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