A decision on whether some Southeast Missouri counties fail to meet federal air quality guidelines is delayed as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is taking more time to consider adopting more stringent standards.
New ozone guidelines expected to be released by the EPA by Aug. 31 have now been postponed until the end of October while the EPA takes additional time to consider information submitted during its public comment period, said David Bryan, EPA spokesman.
David Grimes, who heads a regional air quality committee for the Southeast Missouri Regional Planning Commission, said he isn't surprised by the delay.
"Our frustration is that this is even being done at all," Grimes said.
Local economic development officials fear a lower ozone standard by the EPA will result in some Southeast Missouri counties being designated "nonattainment" zones where new or expanding businesses will face emissions restrictions.
"It will require more expensive equipment to control or contain those emissions and ongoing documentation, said Larry Tucker, economic development director for Perry County. "Typically, businesses look at multiple communities. If we were the only one that has those standards, it could very likely exclude us."
Last fall, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources recommended both Perry and Ste. Genevieve counties to the EPA for nonattainment air quality designations. Cape Girardeau County was initially included in this recommendation, but later dropped.
In January, the EPA announced it was reviewing the 2008 ozone standard of 75 parts per billion and is now considering a standard between 60 and 70 ppb, Bryan said.
"This is a less protective standard than the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee recommended," Bryan said. "When they give us recommendations it's very important we look at the science they base their recommendation on."
If a guideline of 60 ppb were adopted under the EPA's National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone, 650 of the country's 675 air quality monitors would be in violation, according to a letter recently sent to the EPA signed by both Missouri senators, Claire McCaskill and Kit Bond.
Mitch Robinson, executive director of Cape Girardeau Area Magnet, said businesses both inside the U.S. and abroad are closely watching this issue and all the decisions being made right now by the federal government as they consider expansions.
"Most people believe that the EPA would like to see the vast majority of the country within a monitoring area," Robinson said. "I would think we'll probably have a monitor [in Cape Girardeau County] within the next five years. That's the level of restriction we're looking at."
The only air quality monitors currently in Southeast Missouri are in Ste. Genevieve and Perry counties.
The daily average ozone reading from 2008 to 2010 is 70 ppb in Ste. Genevieve County and 72 ppb in Perry County, according to the most recent data sent from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources the Southeast Missouri Regional Planning Commission.
Both monitors show lower readings compared to the daily average ozone readings from 2006 to 2008 when they were at 79 ppb in Ste. Genevieve and 77 ppb in Perry County.
"Three-year averages are declining. They've done things in the metro areas, like the vapor recovery tubes on gasoline nozzles, that are paying off," said David Grimes, who heads a regional air quality committee for the Southeast Missouri Regional Planning Commission.
If the EPA announces its new guidelines in October, it will likely be near the end of the year before the Missouri Department of Natural Resources can make recommendations to the EPA on which local counties should be designated as nonattainment zones, Grimes said. There would then be a public comment period before nonattainment areas would be finalized in April 2011.
1 W. St. Joseph St., Perryville, MO