In 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency finalized a new ambient air quality standard for sulfur dioxide. Billing was one of 30 areas across the US initially identified as not meeting these new standards. In 2013, Billings was designated as an area that did not meet the new sulfur dioxide standards, and was categorized as a “nonattainment area” by the EPA.
Bullock was joined by John Felton, Yellowstone County Health Officer, Jeff Walters of the Billings Chamber of Commerce, and Tom Livers, Director of the Department of Environmental Quality, as he praised the work of industry, local government and health officials and DEQ for their work ensuring any regulations imposed actually make a difference in protecting clean air and water.
The State of Montana stood up to the EPA when Billings was identified as an area not meeting the sulfur dioxide standard. The designation was based on data the State believes was not representative, and it did not take into account other measures being implemented by Billings industries to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions in the airshed.
DEQ has continued to collect air quality information in the Billings airshed since 2010 and was able to demonstrate Billings is in compliance with this standard. In 2015 DEQ submitted monitoring data and analysis to EPA, along with a request to redesignate the area from “nonattainment” to “attainment.”
“Because of our good working relationship with EPA, particularly the Denver regional office, they reviewed our data, considered our arguments, and ultimately agreed with our request,” said DEQ Director Tom Livers, “This success will translate into additional opportunities in other cities and towns that we know are in compliance despite nonattainment status. Whether it is a sulfur dioxide or particulate nonattainment area, there are other Montana towns that need this designation changed.”
The redesignation efforts within the State of Montana are not complete with this action. DEQ will be working with the appropriate stakeholders to remove any designation of “nonattainment” that is not necessary to protect the citizens and will remove any unnecessary constraints or obligations placed on communities in Montana. The next area DEQ will focus on is the area around the CHS refinery in Laurel. DEQ is working with the company and officials at EPA to ensure success in redesignating this area as well and plan to submit a redesignation request to EPA this fall.