State expecting tougher ozone standard; area officials worry about economic effect

Friday, November 20, 2009

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency review of ozone pollution standards could put a label on Cape Girardeau County and several other Southeast Missouri counties that officials and business leaders fear could stifle future growth.

Before beginning a new review of the air pollution standard itself, the EPA was reviewing recommendations from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources that would have declared Perry and Ste. Genevieve counties nonattainment areas, meaning air monitors in those two counties recorded pollution in excess of the clean air standard. A decision was expected by March.

Now state officials expect a more stringent standard. That's why officials are worried. David Grimes, director of research and special projects for the Southeast Missouri Regional Planning and Economic Development Commission, told the Cape Girardeau County Commission on Thursday that the potential for a tougher standard could put Cape Girardeau County and New Madrid County in danger of being declared nonattainment.

Grimes has been visiting counties around the region seeking a resolution of support for a voluntary clean air program. Cape Girardeau County was the last county on his list, and he'll start a round of visits to regional cities.

If Cape Girardeau County is included in the zone, it could stop businesses from locating here and prevent existing ones from expanding, Grimes said. Air pollution, especially ozone pollution, is becoming a rural problem in addition to an urban one, he said.

"We're fighting long and hard to try and prevent this from happening because it could be devastating to our communities," he said. "The good news is we probably have a while before it's decided and we have time to take action."

Ozone is a form of oxygen that forms when sunlight interacts with volatile organic chemicals, such as gasoline fumes, and nitrogen oxides, found in car exhaust and emissions from coal-fired power plants. The resulting pollution is commonly known as smog. Federal rules impose increasing restrictions as violations become more serious.

An air monitor at Farrar, Mo., in southeast Perry County was considered to show violations when the Missouri DNR made its recommendations. But with no days in violation at Farrar this year, area officials had hoped that Perry County would escape the nonattainment designation.

State officials are waiting for word on whether the EPA will lower the standard, said Renee Bungart, spokeswoman for the state resource agency. The decision is expected in two to four weeks. If the emissions threshold is lowered, the entire process of evaluating violations would begin again. State recommendations would be due by August, an EPA decision would come by August 2011 and restrictions would take effect by December 2013, Bungart said.

"It is more likely that the number is going to be lowered," she said. "If they lower it, we hit the reset button, look at the number that is the standard and go back and re-evaluate the whole entire state."

In the discussion Thursday, Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones said he agreed the designation would be devastating for future commerce in the county.

"It would shut down any additional expansion or a company looking to come in.," Jones said. "When a company comes in, they want to know if you're in an attainment or nonattainment zone. They'll then go to the next county."

Jackson Mayor Barbara Lohr, who was at the meeting, said the city will start an advertising campaign to educate its residents on ozone. The city will put a sticker on gas pumps with the words "Stop at the click for clean air" to encourage people to stop filling their tanks when the pump shuts off the first time.

"We're trying to get our citizens be aware of some things they can do to help with the Clean Air Action Plan," Lohr said. "The sticker would really help. People don't understand how it helps if they don't overflow their gas tanks."

rkeller@semissourian.com

388-3642

bblackwell@semissourian.com

388-3628

Pertinent addresses:

1 Barton Square, Jackson, Mo.

Farrar, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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