September 2016

VOC Reductions: Another California SIP

During the past 25 years, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted a series of consumer product volatile organic compound (VOC) regulations that have resulted in a 50% reduction in the VOC emissions attributed to consumer products. This is a significant accomplishment, but a costly one. Reformulation of products to meet those regulations cost the consumer products industry—using CARB’s own estimates—more than $2 billion.

These reductions have been aimed at attaining the federal National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone (ozone standards), as required by various updates to the California State Implementation Plan for Ozone (SIP), which incorporate the Air Quality Management Plans (AQMPs) developed by various air districts in the state. SIPs, which are state plans for complying with the federal Clean Air Act, create legally binding commitments for further reductions and mandated rulemakings.

In May, CARB requested public comment on the Proposed 2016 State Strategy for the State Implementation Plan for Federal Ozone and PM2.5 Standards. This new SIP revision, aimed at attaining the 2008 ozone standard (75ppb), focuses almost solely on the additional reductions in nitrogen oxides (NOx) needed to attain both ozone and PM2.5 standards. However, it also included a Consumer Products Program measure that would require an additional 10 tons per day in consumer product VOC reductions by 2031. It was the only measure of the dozens in the proposed strategy that was aimed exclusively at VOC emissions. All of the other VOC reductions were from measures whose primary purpose was NOx reductions, with VOCs an added bonus.

To put this latest SIP proposal in perspective, this is the smallest VOC reduction ever proposed in a California SIP. Past SIP revisions have had reduction goals as high as 85 tons per day. The Consumer Specialty Products Association’s (CSPA) continuous efforts to reduce targeted SIP reductions for consumer products and other low reactivity VOCs are finally gaining significant traction. Numerous studies have shown that VOCs contained in consumer products have minimal air quality impact, and their impact on ozone levels is virtually non-existent. This is clear from the information provided in the CARB-proposed 2016 State Strategy, as well as additional information released in July in the draft 2016 South Coast Air Quality Management Plan (AQMP), which also includes only minimal VOC reductions from industrial products, with all other VOC reductions coming from NOx-focused measures.

The CARB proposed 2016 State Strategy estimates the cost of the 10 tons per day in further VOC reductions at $108 million. That is a significant amount of money, especially for a measure that is not necessary to attaining federal or state air quality standards.

In early July, CSPA filed comprehensive comments with CARB on the proposed 2016 State Strategy. The comments provided a summary of all of the major scientific studies over the past decades that show the minimal and diminishing impact of consumer product VOCs. We showed that our VOCs are low reactivity and that the atmospheric conditions in the state are moving from VOC-limited (where they often were when we started this issue in the 1980s) to NOx-limited, where VOCs have little or no impact and only NOx reductions can further reduce ozone. CSPA presented a compelling case that no further consumer product reductions are necessary to meet the 2008 ozone standard that this SIP seeks to attain.

Consumer product measures are required by law. The California Health & Safety Code states that CARB can only regulate consumer products if the agency “…determines that adequate data exists to establish…the regulations are necessary to attain state and federal ambient air quality standards.”[1]

There were no data in the proposed 2016 State Strategy, adequate or otherwise, to establish that additional VOC reductions are necessary. Indeed, there was extensive evidence that the reductions were not necessary. Furthermore, federal law requires that states have adequate authority for all SIP measures. Therefore, CSPA urged CARB to remove the proposed 10-tons-per-day goal from the consumer products measure. We recommended that CARB enhance plans for added flexibility in compliance options and seek to maintain the feasibility of existing VOC limits.

Unfortunately, provisions in EPA’s SIP requirements make it difficult, if not impossible, to make significant revisions to existing VOC regulations adopted under SIPs—even if the VOC reductions produced by these regulatory standards are no longer necessary for attaining the federal ozone standard.

CSPA is filing similar comments with the South Coast district regarding its draft AQMP. The proposed 2016 State Strategy is scheduled for adoption at the CARB meeting in late September. The AQMP is scheduled for adoption by the district board in December and by CARB in January 2017. We will soon know if our efforts have been successful to have science and law win out over politics.

This is not the last SIP we will face—the SIP to implement the 2015 ozone standard is just a few years away—but it is important that we begin the process now to end the unnecessary targeting of VOCs in consumer products. One hundred million dollars is a terrible amount to waste, and can be put to much better use.

[1] CA Health & Safety Code § 41712(b).