Non Attainment Areas

Non Attainment Areas in the United States

Non Attainment Areas in Environmental Law

Air quality control regions throughout the United States that have not met the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The standards are designed to ensure that air quality is good enough to protect people’s health as well as the environment. They cover common pollutants, such as ozone, small particulates, lead, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide [see nitrogen oxides].

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for designating air quality regions as attainment or nonattainment. States must submit data to facilitate the determination, and they may request a change in classification of a region. Attainment status is evaluated separately for each pollutant. If an area is designated nonattainment, the pollutant will be mentioned along with the status designation, as in nonattainment for lead, or nonattainment for sulfur dioxide.

The National Ambient Air Quality Standards have been around for years. Congress mandated their establishment in 1970. Unfortunately, much of the country is still having difficulty meeting the levels required. Deadlines have come and gone, and it became apparent when Congress examined the status of the law in 1990 that definitive steps had to be taken or some air quality districts would never meet the standard.

The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990

When the Clean Air Act was revised in 1990 [see Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990], Congress took a momentous step toward air quality improvement. It stopped setting dates for compliance that were basically the same for all air districts. Instead, it based the deadlines on the severity of the noncompliance, giving the worst areas more time to meet the standards. For some pollutants, the amendments subdivided the nonattainment areas into categories that reflected the degree of the problem.

Ozone nonattainment areas, for example, are classified as marginal, moderate, serious, severe, or extreme nonattainment areas. Marginal ozone nonattainment areas were required to meet the standard within three years; moderate areas have six; serious areas, nine; and severe areas, fifteen. If the deadline passes and the area is not yet in compliance, it is bumped up into a higher category, though severe areas may not be moved into the extreme classification. Apparently Congress does not believe any part of the country except Los Angeles should be put into that category Congress also named a large area of the northeast United States as an ozone transport region and allowed the EPA to designate such areas that cover more than one state as nonattainment. The states within the regions must cooperate and regulate to eliminate the problems.

Sanctions may be imposed on states that do not meet their deadlines. In general, the punishment results in loss of federal funds and may require the payment of penalties.

Since the Clean Air Act changed so dramatically in 1990, the states were immediately forced to amend their laws and regulations to reflect the changes. If they do not submit an acceptable state implementation plan within a reasonable time, the EPA will impose a federal implementation plan.

Nonattainment Classifications

The pollutant with the most varied requirements and classifications is ozone. As mentioned above, the degrees of attainment for ozone are marginal, moderate, serious, severe, and extreme.

The marginal areas have a laundry list of actions to perform to achieve compliance; moderate areas must do everything the marginal areas must do and more; serious areas must meet all of the duties of the moderate areas and go farther, and so on. Extreme nonattainment areas have the most requirements of all. Los Angeles is the only area of the country classified as extreme nonattainment for ozone. It has twenty years from 15 November 1990 to attain the national standard for ozone.

Carbon monoxide nonattainment areas are either moderate or serious. Moderate nonattainment areas have until 1995 to comply with the national standard; serious regions must reach the standard by 2000. Any moderate area that misses the deadline is automatically reclassified serious. Like ozone nonattainment requirements, carbon monoxide nonattainment requirements increase as the severity of the problem increases. Serious nonattainment regions for carbon monoxide must do everything the moderate areas must do and take other steps as well.

The aim of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for particulate matter is to reduce the amount of inhalable particles discharged into the air. The EPA has determined the size of inhalable particulates is 10 microns, so it has developed a standard for particulates that size or smaller called the PM10 standard. All nonattainment areas for PM10 were initially designated moderate, but if they do not meet the standard within six years after being designated nonattainment, they are to be moved into the serious category. The EPA may also redesignate the area earlier if it determines that the region cannot meet the standard by that deadline.

Nonattainment areas for the remaining pollutants, lead, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide, are not subdivided into finer categories, and compliance must be reached within five years after being designated nonattainment.

Requirements for Reasonable Further Progress

Requirements for Reasonable Further Progress

It would be impossible for any nonattainment area to reach compliance without taking definite steps toward that goal. Therefore, the states involved must design plans that will bring about measureable reductions by specified dates.

States submit initial inventories of air pollution to the EPA. If they are nonattainment for one of the criteria pollutants, they must then create schedules designed to reduce that pollutant incrementally The schedules establish a series of dates before the deadline by which the pollutant will have been reduced by an acceptable percentage. This system enables the EPA to determine whether the area will reach attainment. If it cannot meet the interim goals, the EPA has the right to bump the area into a different classification.


The Clean Air Act itself mandates some reclassifications. If, for example, an air quality district does not meet its statutory deadline, it automatically gets bumped up into another category. However, once an area meets the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, the state may ask the EPA to designate it an attainment area. Similarly, if the state discovers that a nonattainment area is worse or better than it thought, it may request a redesignation. To support a redesignation, the state must submit proof to the EPA.
Based on “Environment and the Law. A Dictionary”.

Non Attainment Areas: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Non Attainment Areas. This part provides references, in relation to Non Attainment Areas, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Non Attainment Areas by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Non Attainment Areas and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Non Attainment Areas or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Non Attainment Areas and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Non Attainment Areas. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Non Attainment Areas should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Non Attainment Areas when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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