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Air Resources

Laws  & Regulations

Three federal laws are most relevant to guiding the BLM Air Resource Management Program’s work:

Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA)

The Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) provides BLM’s basic operating authority. It was enacted in 1976 to establish a unified, comprehensive, and systematic approach to managing and preserving public lands in a way that protects “the quality of scientific, scenic, historical, ecological, environmental, air and atmospheric, water resource, and archeological values.”

The Federal Land Policy and Management Act can be found on the FLPMA page of the BLM’s website.

Federal Clean Air Act (CAA)

The Clean Air Act (CAA) is the comprehensive federal law that provides for regulation of air emissions from stationary and mobile sources, national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) to protect public health and public welfare, and protection of visibility in relatively pristine areas such as national parks and wilderness areas. The CAA prescribes the measures that EPA and other federal agencies and state, local, and tribal governments must take in order to regulate air pollution and achieve air quality that meets the NAAQS.

The Clean Air Act, as well as a Plain English Guide to the Clean Air Act, can be accessed on EPA’s Clean Air Act website.

The BLM is required to comply with the CAA and to ensure that BLM-authorized activities comply with it as well. Three elements of the CAA regulatory framework are especially important to the BLM’s management of air resources:

  • National Ambient Air Quality Standards
  • Conformity of Federal Actions with Air Quality Planning Requirements
  • Protection of Visibility and Other Air Quality Related Values

Some CAA regulations developed by EPA apply directly to activities that the BLM may authorize on public lands, such as oil and gas development and production; more information is available on the Technical Guidance & Policy Section Page.

National Ambient Air Quality Standards

Sections 108 and 109 of the CAA require EPA to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment. Primary standards provide public health protection, including protecting the health of “sensitive” populations such as asthmatics, children, and the elderly. Secondary standards provide public welfare protection, including protection against decreased visibility and damage to animals, crops, vegetation, and buildings. EPA has established NAAQS for seven pollutants: fine particles, inhalable coarse particles, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ground level ozone, and lead. State, local and tribal agencies have primary responsibility for ensuring attainment of the NAAQS. In addition, the BLM must ensure that BLM and BLM-authorized activities are consistent with the NAAQS and applicable state, local, and tribal air pollution requirements.

Section 109 of the CAA requires EPA to conduct a review of the NAAQS every 5 years to evaluate the criteria on which the NAAQS are based. Based on the latest science, EPA makes a recommendation as to whether the existing NAAQS protect public health and the environment with an adequate margin of safety. EPA has revised the NAAQS for various pollutants several times over the 40-year history of the CAA. For example, EPA revised the NAAQS for SO2 and NOx in 2010, and is considering whether revisions to the NAAQS for ozone and particulate matter (both fine and coarse particles) are warranted.

Sections 110 and 171-193 of the CAA sets forth the requirements for state, local, or tribal governments to develop plans for attaining each NAAQS known as state implementation plans (SIPs) or tribal implementation plans (TIPs). Areas of the country where air pollution levels persistently exceed the NAAQS are designated as “nonattainment” and are listed in EPA’s Green Book. Once an area is designated as nonattainment, state, tribal, or local agencies must develop implementation plans which contain the emission reduction measures needed to return the area to attainment status. Once an area is returned to attainment status, it is classified as a “maintenance area” and measures are developed to ensure that the NAAQS are maintained in the future. The SIP, TIP or maintenance plan for a given area can be found by contacting the appropriate air planning agency.

Conformity of Federal Actions with Air Quality Planning Goals

Section 176 of the CAA requires that Federal agency activities, including licensing and permitting, within EPA-designated nonattainment or maintenance areas must comply with applicable general and transportation conformity regulations.

The General Conformity Rule ensures that the actions taken by federal agencies in nonattainment and maintenance areas are consistent with (“conform to”) a state’s plans to attain the NAAQS. The BLM has a responsibility to conduct General Conformity analyses (and when applicable, issue formal conformity determinations) prior to conducting or approving activities within designated non-attainment or maintenance areas. Some common activities where conformity analysis may apply include: prescribed fire activities, oil and gas leases, and other land use authorizations in nonattainment areas.

The Transportation Conformity Rule ensures that federal funding and approvals support highway and transit projects that do not interfere with the air quality goals established by a SIP or TIP. Transportation conformity is generally administered by EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation, but BLM may have an occasional role to play for highway or transit projects on BLM lands.

While the Clean Air Act conformity requirements are independent of and in addition to the NEPA environmental review requirements, the two analyses may be combined. The BLM often incorporates Clean Air Act conformity analyses into its NEPA documents where proposed actions are located in nonattainment or maintenance areas.

Protection of Visibility and Other Air Quality Related Values

Some proposed land uses on BLM-administered lands may require a Clean Air Act permit prior to the commencement of any construction activities. The BLM has a responsibility to consider potential air resource impacts on the public lands through the New Source Review (NSR) preconstruction permitting program.

An important aspect of NSR is the prevention of significant deterioration permit program that is designed to protect air quality in “Class I” areas, pristine areas like national parks. The BLM, as a Federal land manager, has an “affirmative responsibility to protect the air quality related values ([AQRVs,] including visibility)” of lands it administers within Class I areas, and to consider whether proposed major sources of air pollution will have an adverse impact on those values. AQRVs include, but are not limited to, visibility, flora, fauna, ecologic, geologic, historic, and cultural characteristics.

While the PSD permitting program addresses adverse visibility impacts from individual sources, Section 169A of the Clean Air Act requires EPA to establish a regional haze program to improve visibility in 156 national parks and wilderness areas. EPA’s regional haze rule requires the states to develop and implement regional haze state implementation plans (SIPs) to reduce the pollution that causes visibility impairment. More information about the regional haze program is available at: http://www.epa.gov/visibility/program.html.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) establishes a public, interdisciplinary framework for Federal decision-making and ensures that the BLM and other Federal agencies take environmental factors into account when considering Federal actions. At the heart of NEPA is the requirement that environmental impact statements (EISs) be prepared for all proposed major federal agency actions significantly affecting the human environment.

The National Environmental Policy Act can be found on the Council on Environmental Quality’s website. Additional information on the BLM’s NEPA responsibilities can be found on the NEPA page of the BLM’s website.


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