In 1970, Congress passed the Clean Air Act Extension, directing the newly formed Environmental Protection Agency to develop national standards for six airborne pollutants, including carbon monoxide, fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide.

Under these National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), the EPA monitors levels for each of the six pollutants named above, usually on a county-by-county basis, although the EPA can also combine counties into larger areas. The EPA must use “the latest scientific knowledge” to set the standards so that the public welfare, economic value, and personal comfort are protected.

When pollution in a monitored area exceeds the NAAQS, the governor of the state must submit a state implementation plan (SIP) to the EPA for the “non-attainment” area. The area in question then has a set time to lower the pollutant or face penalties.

In 2002, the EPA initiated the Early Action Compact (EAC) Program to give communities at risk of violating the EPA’s ozone NAAQS the option of entering into a cooperative early action agreement with the EPA before they actually violated the NAAQS. And this program had success: 13 out of the 14 areas that voluntarily opted into this program were successful in improving air quality and avoiding a “non-attainment” designation entirely.

Unfortunately, the EPA scrapped the EAC Program in 2017 due to ligation, which argued that the program was outside the EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act. This was a major loss for local communities and the environment.

That is why Sen. Romney (R-UT) and I introduced the Early Action Against Ozone Act this week. Our bill would give clear authorization to the EPA to implement a similar program to the EAC so that localities throughout the country can have the option of taking early action to improve air quality.

Local governments that want to work with the EPA to lower pollution shouldn’t have to wait till pollution is already a problem in their communities before they are credited for reducing emissions. The Early Action Against Ozone Act would empower local communities to work with the EPA before ozone levels reach unhealthy levels in their communities.