PERRYVILLE, Mo. -- A decision on whether some Southeast Missouri counties fail to meet federal air quality standards will be delayed as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers adopting tougher guidelines.
In January, the EPA extended the deadline for designating areas with too much ground-level ozone, the key ingredient in smog. According to its website, the EPA is now reconsidering the ozone standards set in 2008 because they were not as stringent as recommended by the EPA's panel of science advisers, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee.
"The EPA has changed the rules," regional planner David Grimes told the Regional Planning and Economic Development Commission Tuesday in Perryville. "We were working with ozone standards at 75 parts per billion. Now they're changing it to somewhere between 60 to 70 ppb. They haven't said for sure yet."
Last fall, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources recommended both Perry and Ste. Genevieve counties to the EPA for nonattainment air quality designations. That and other states' recommendations were expected to be approved by the EPA this month, but now that deadline has been extended until March 2011.
Working with a new, lower emissions standard means more of Southeast Missouri will likely fail to meet air quality requirements.
At the current standard of 75 parts per billion, there is a chance the EPA's monitor at Farrar in Perry County will be in compliance, Grimes said. But it's likely the monitor in Ste. Genevieve County near Bonne Terre will exceed the current limit.
"Considering a new standard in the range of 60 to 70 ppb, neither of our monitors or even the monitor in the middle of the Mark Twain National Forrest will be in compliance," Grimes said.
When a monitor has high readings, then the county it's in is considered the nonattainment area, but that area may expand if the EPA changes its guidelines.
"Adjacent counties might well be contributors, so they are automatically considered," Grimes said. If the monitor in Perry County exceeds allowable amounts of ozone, Cape Girardeau County could be included in the nonattainment area under the new rules.
Staff and local governments that are members of the Southeast Missouri Regional Planning Commission have been writing letters to federal officials urging them to keep the current ozone standard, at 75 parts per billion, in place.
Grimes said the current guidelines reflect a 12 percent reduction from pre-2008 standards.
"We are clearly past the science," Grimes said. "Now we're into the realm of politics and policy decisions. Things we need to do to get some sanity in this system are going to have to come through the political policy approach."
Counties receiving an air quality nonattainment designation face additional restrictions on new businesses interested in coming into the area or existing businesses looking to expand. Businesses in nonattainment areas are required to invest in additional emissions control systems.
"The EPA has said it will cost up to $90 billion to meet the new standards. That's a lot to put onto business in the middle of a recession," Grimes said.
The EPA will make a decision on its ozone guidelines by Aug. 31. This fall, state departments of natural resources will then resubmit nonattainment areas to the EPA, with nonattainment designations being made by the EPA in March 2011.
"When we talk about carbon, greenhouse gases, man-made global warming. They have yet to do any regulation on it, but it's coming in the future," Grimes said. "But ozone you don't hear about. This is something we'll have to start dealing with now, not four or five years from now."
Grimes will address the Missouri Air Conservation Commission at 9 a.m. today at Drury Lodge in Cape Girardeau. The group is part of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources' Division of Environmental Quality and will have a public comment portion during its meeting.
1 W. St. Joseph St., Perryville, MO