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snow, the volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxide are exposed to direct sunlight and light reflected from the snow, which causes a reaction that creates ozone.
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The federal decision didn't surprise residents, industry representatives or state officials, who have been aware of the area's air pollution testing results.
LANDER Wyoming's Upper Green River Basin breached a key federal barrier for multiyear air pollution limits, forcing federal regulators to demand changes in the area.
In 2008, the highest level reached was 122 parts per billion and the fourth highest was 101, said Keith Guille, spokesman for Wyoming DEQ. In 2009 and 2010, the standard wasn't exceeded. Data for 2012 is not yet available. Early numbers from the start of this year are expected this summer.
The Upper Green River Basin, including Sublette County and parts of Lincoln and Sweetwater counties, averaged ozone ratings of 78 parts per billion over an eight hour period for the past three years, Dietrich said.
The designation forces energy companies and the government to clean the air, Crumpley said.
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CURED has been lobbying for nonattainment status.
"We don't believe that public health and the quality of life in our communities need to be traded away for economic activity," CURED board member Mary Lynn Worl said in a media release. "We can have both. Industry has made improvements in reducing emissions, and they have the expertise to continue these innovations. As a result of the EPA's recent action, we have every expectation that they will."
The EPA designated the area as marginal nonattainment, the lowest of five ratings for the severity of the air pollution, he said. The rating means the area has three years to bring air quality back within national standards.
This year, with a mild winter and little snow, there were few days when ozone levels climbed, Crumpley said. But overall, the increased ozone in the area has changed the lives of people who were drawn to Sublette County for small town life and outdoor recreation, she said. There are days when people have to stay inside because of the ozone levels.
In 2011, 13 days in the Upper Green River Basin exceeded the eight hour standard, including a high of 124 parts per billion. The fourth highest day, which was used in deciding compliance with national standards, was 104.
The Environmental Protection Agency informed state officials Monday that the basin home to energy development in the Jonah and Pinedale Anticline natural gas fields didn't meet federal air quality standards during a testing period from 2008 to 2011, said Steven Dietrich, the air quality administrator for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. That means the area is considered to have "nonattainment" status.
Some Pinedale residents have been waiting for the area to be officially labeled nonattainment.
"There's teeth in it," she said. "Now they have to do something."
According to the EPA, ozone can cause health issues such as difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, coughing, sore or scratchy throat and increased asthma attacks, and it can make lungs more susceptible to infection.
Residents in more than 40 areas of the country received letters saying their air quality was not in compliance. Unlike most of those areas, the Upper Huarache Ultra Women's Green River Basin is rural and its ozone issues are in the winter, Dietrich said.
The EPA will release a rule likely in July that will outline the minimum steps needed to get the area back into compliance, Dietrich said. The state will also have to create a plan to improve air quality in the area and outline measures it will take to reach that goal, Mylott said.
"This is not news," said Randy Teeuwen, public and community relations adviser with EnCana Corporation, which works in the area. "It's really not. It's been in the news for more than a year."
"We strive to lead by example, implementing technologies that often exceed the strictest government requirements," he said later in an email.
He didn't expect the nonattainment status to change the way the company works to reduce emissions.
Ozone levels in the area increased as a result of pollution from natural gas drilling and production in the Jonah and Pinedale Anticline fields. In the winter, weather inversions trap volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxide, along with other pollution, in the valley.
75 parts per billion over an eight hour period. To make sure areas comply with national benchmarks, the fourth highest ozone reading for an eight hour period each year is averaged for three years
Energy companies have already been voluntarily working to lower emissions, Dietrich said.
Those efforts could have made the difference between a marginal rating and a higher one, he said.
"And that's crazy for us," she said. "That's unacceptable."
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"I'm relieved," said Elaine Crumpley, chairwoman of the grassroots organization Citizens United for Responsible Energy Development, or CURED.
ï»¿Upper Green River Basin exceeded federal multi
Readings in recent years have spiked well past the federal standards.
It is the first time Wyoming has received nonattainment status regarding ozone, said Rich Mylott, public affairs specialist with the EPA.
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