EPA Evaluating Denver’s Love My Air Program as National Model for Community Air Monitoring

December 19, 2023 —

The following article has been reprinted with permission from InsideEPA.com; the original article may be found here.

EPA Eyes Denver’s Voluntary Air Monitoring Program As National Model

EPA is considering whether a Denver-based community air monitoring program could become a national agency-backed prototype as part of the Biden administration’s effort to bolster environmental justice (EJ) considerations by expanding non-regulatory community air monitoring programs.

The approach could provide an alternative to mandatory monitoring requirements that environmentalists are pushing the agency to adopt but which officials are resisting.

Chet Wayland, director of EPA’s Air Quality Assessment Division in the Office of Air Quality Planning & Standards (OAQPS), told the agency’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) Dec. 5 that the agency has struggled for as long as a decade to establish community monitoring standards “and we have failed.”

That is because EPA has historically addressed the issue through a regulatory lens and tended to add requirements “which weren’t really helpful.”

Now, EPA is working with a Denver-based grassroots air monitoring program called “Love My Air,” which has built a network to collect and share data.

The program’s standards are not as rigorous as regulatory standards, making them “much easier to implement” and easier for communities to share data with the public, other communities and with EPA, Wayland said.

Instead of coming up with its own data standards, EPA decided “to go to someone already doing this,” Wayland added, noting that Michael Ogletree, who founded the program in 2018, is now director of the air pollution control division for the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE).

CDPHE will present EPA with a prototype of the Denver program to review this week, “and if that goes well, then this format can be made available to anyone to share across the platform,” Wayland explained. On the agency’s third try on community-based monitoring standards, it may “have something that might work.”

EPA’s consideration of the Denver program comes as the agency is battling environmentalists, who are seeking to force the agency to expand its consideration of fenceline air monitoring when reviewing air toxic rules.

Environmentalists are seeking to use their suit over the agency’s air toxics rule governing lead acid battery facilities, Hoosier Environmental Council, et al. v. EPA, et al., to potentially limit the agency’s discretion to avoid in-depth consideration of fenceline monitoring across a range of industry sectors.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit earlier this month granted EPA’s request to pause the litigation while officials prepare to file a voluntary remand motion so the agency can “clarify the record and provide a fuller explanation of its decision and response to Petitioners’ comments.”

Broader Implications

While the suit is on its face limited only to battery manufacturing, the environmentalists’ argument carries potentially broader implications for other sectors, opening the door to a precedent requiring EPA to consider fenceline air monitoring in any industry that has similar characteristics to another sector where such monitors have been implemented, or at least considered.

Groups are pressing for such monitors across several high-profile rules that are either proposed or subject to future revisions, such as EPA’s proposed rules limiting releases of ethylene oxide (EtO) from sterilizers, which considered fenceline monitors but rejected them as unnecessary and difficult to implement.

EPA has now required fenceline air monitors at refineries and has proposed to do so in its air rules for a broad swath of the chemical sector under the synthetic organic chemical manufacturing industry (SOCMI) category and “group I” and “group II” of the polymers and resins sector, and for integrated steel plants and coke ovens.

But Wayland said in his presentation that EPA hopes the Denver program can help to provide “consistent standards for sharing data that are less burdensome than traditional regulatory data standards, yet can provide useful basic metadata to inform those receiving and using the data.”

EPA “fully appreciates that the sharing of community data is critical to information being available for decision-makers and is working directly with Colorado DPHE on potential data standards for sharing community-based monitoring,” Wayland’s presentation said.

EPA is working on an Air Quality Data Exchange format for potential use as a common sharing approach.

Wayland told the NEJAC that the metadata documents both the level of quality of the data and the type of monitoring device used, while presenting the information in a much more simplified form from what EPA has considered in the past.

“This is all a work in progress but we think we’ve made really good progress on the front end,” and now the issue is at OAQPS to look at more on the back end and to determine how the data should be used to make decisions, Wayland said, adding he would be “happy to come back to this group and discuss that when we’re there.”

Wayland also noted there will be federal funding available for these monitoring programs as part of the $2 billion “community change” EJ grant program Administrator Michael Regan announced Nov. 21.

There are “a lot of resources moving toward community monitoring, and we’re very excited about that,” Wayland said, adding that “quality is a big deal” once monitors are out and he believes the Denver program is rigorous enough to ensure good data.

The prototype will include a quality grade, from A to D, with A-quality data equating to a federal reference method, and then lower rigor as the grade drops. It is a “simplified structure” that gives users knowledge about how the data was collected.

Screening Tool

Also at the NEJAC meeting, Erika Sasser, director of OAQPS’ Health & Environmental Impacts Division, discussed a new screening tool that the agency is using internally and will soon launch publicly called NEXUS, a multi-pollutant advanced screening tool.

The tool is being used with regional offices for multi-pollutant planning but is intended for eventual future public release, Sasser said.

It identifies geographic areas where health risks related to ozone, fine particulate matter and air toxics overlap, the “nexus,” her slides say.

The tool is intended to accelerate multi-pollutant strategies that “have the potential to reduce costs and increase health benefits” compared to single-pollutant strategies.

The tool includes emission source information and a “suite of demographic indicators” pulled from EJSCREEN, including low-income, people of color, linguistically isolated, and young and old, the slide says.

Sasser added that NEXUS also uses the White House’s Climate & Environmental Justice Screening Tool.

The tool compiles “a lot of good information” Sasser said, offering to return to NEJAC and do a demonstration at a later meeting.

Wayland noted that the Air & Waste Management Association’s EM Magazine will have an article on NEXUS in this month’s issue, and that while EPA has “more work to do internally . . . the goal is to make it public,” something that is “months away in my estimate.”

Finally, EPA policy analyst Tanya Abrahamian told the NEJAC that the agency is internally tracking where EPA has commented on EJ matters in permits being issued by states, which will be used to inform updates to EPA’s EJ in Air Permitting guidance.

“We are cognizant there is a patchwork” of states that are progressively implementing EJ in permitting, and those permits “will inform future actions” by EPA to press more states to incorporate EJ considerations into their permits. -- Dawn Reeves (dreeves@iwpnews.com)