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Air Quality Program

Standards and Plans

Federal and state agencies set air quality standards for outdoor air. The purpose of these standards is to prevent air pollution from reaching levels that hurt human health. When an area does not meet an air quality standard, the state must develop a plan to clean up the air.

Clean Power Plan

The Clean Power Plan is an EPA rule that limits carbon pollution from existing power plants. Power plants — the largest source of carbon pollution — generate about one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Greenhouse gas pollution causes climate change and harms human health. EPA has set state-specific targets based on each state‚Äôs emissions and power sources.

National Standards

EPA sets national standards for six air pollutants called "criteria pollutants." These federal standards are called national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS). States monitor air quality in different areas to find out if the areas are meeting the NAAQS. The criteria pollutants are:

  • Ground-level ozone (O3)
  • Particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5)
  • Carbon monoxide (CO)
  • Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
  • Sulfur dioxide (SO2)
  • Lead (Pb)

There are both national and state standards for most criteria pollutants. States may set standards at different levels than the federal levels for their areas. However, states cannot set levels higher than EPA's. In other words, state standards must be at least as protective as federal standards.

Designations

When EPA sets or revises a national standard, Washington uses air monitoring data to determine if air quality meets the new or revised standard. Based on this data, Washington recommends to EPA how areas of the state should be classified or designated. EPA sets each area's designation. Possible designations are:

  • Attainment (meeting and maintaining a standard)
  • Nonattainment (not meeting a standard)
  • Unclassifiable (not enough information to classify)

State Implementation Plans (SIPs)

The federal Clean Air Act requires states to develop plans to protect and maintain air quality in the state. It also requires states to develop specific plans to bring areas not meeting standards (nonattainment) back into attainment. These plans are called State Implementation Plans (SIPs).


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