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On July 18, 1997, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revised the national standard for ground-level ozone from a 0.12 ppm (parts per million)1-hour "peak" standard to a 0.08 ppm 8-hour "average" standard. This new standard is commonly referred to as the 8-hour ozone standard. Currently, all areas of Tennessee attain (meet) all national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS), including the 1-hour ozone standard. However, when implemented, the 8-hour ozone standard could result in a number of areas of the State being determined not to meet the 8-hour standard and being designated as non-attainment for ground-level ozone. When the non-attainment designation occurs, the State must recommend to EPA the boundaries of the areas that are not in compliance with the ground-level ozone standard, and must submit a plan to EPA that demonstrates how the State will bring those areas back into attainment. Also, when non-attainment designations occur, areas are subject to General and Transportation Conformity and non-attainment New Source Review requirements.

The Early Action Compact (EAC) serves as a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) among government agencies representing, collectively, local governments, state governments, including the Tennessee Air Pollution Control Board (TAPCB), and EPA. It is for the express purpose of commitment to EPA's "Protocol for Early Action Compacts Designed to Achieve and Maintain the 8-Hour Ozone Standard".

This "Protocol" allows for early voluntary 8-hour air quality improvement plans to be developed through a "Compact" between Local, State, and EPA officials for areas that are in attainment for the 1-hour ozone standard, but approach or monitor exceedances of the 8-hour standard. Based on preliminary data for 2000 through 2002 a number of areas may not be in attainment of the 8-hour ozone standard. Thus, the areas are eligible and good candidates for Early Action Compacts.

The EAC requires the development of an early action plan that includes all necessary elements of a comprehensive air quality plan, but is tailored to local needs and driven by local decisions. As long as all Compact terms and milestones are met, the effective date of non-attainment designations is deferred, as are related requirements. The early action approach will offer a more expeditious timeline for achieving emissions reductions than EPA's expected 8-hour implementation rulemaking, while providing "fail-safe" provisions for the area to revert to the traditional State Implementation Plan (SIP) process if specific milestones are not met. Currently, EPA plans to make the designations for the 8-hour ozone standard in 2004.

While the Department is interested in pursuing an Early Action Compact for ground-level ozone, it is recognized that developing the technical requirements necessary to create an approvable plan to submit to EPA under the tight timeframes involved is a difficult task. However, the public health and environmental benefits that could be derived from early actions warrant moving forward with this effort.