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Published: Friday, 6/22/2007

Counties may face ozone compliance fight

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Promoting economic development through better smog controls is likely to get a lot harder for Toledo and other metropolitan areas.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency yesterday announced plans for tightening the federal Clean Air Act's standard for ground-level ozone for the first time since 1997, a move that could throw as many as one of every five U.S. counties out of compliance by 2010.

Groups such as the American Lung Association claim the proposal does not go far enough to protect those with asthma and other respiratory conditions.

In the Toledo area, lowering the eight-hour ozone standard from 0.08 parts per million to anywhere within the proposed range of 0.070 to 0.075 parts per million probably would put Lucas and Wood counties out of compliance again.

Just 16 days ago, on June 5, the federal EPA's Midwest regional office in Chicago said it expected Lucas and Wood counties to come back into compliance for the current standard within a month.

Fulton, Ottawa, Monroe, and Lenawee counties - all in compliance now - also are at risk of being in violation of the upcoming standard, according to a list released yesterday by the Washington-based law firm of Bracewell and Giuliani LLP, an industry lobbyist.

The firm said the projections were based on U.S. EPA data and made by a Montana consultant, A.S.L. & Associates.

The U.S. EPA said it will take public comment for 90 days after its proposal is published in the Federal Register. Hearings have been scheduled for Aug. 30 in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, and for Sept. 5 in Chicago and Houston.

The new standard is to be set by March 12. The U.S. EPA then plans to spend another two years assessing the compliance status of the nation's 3,000 counties before releasing its official list in 2010, agency spokesman John Millett said.

The federal EPA yesterday released an abbreviated, unofficial list.

It omitted hundreds of counties that don't have air monitors, Mr. Millett said.

Lucas and Wood counties showed up as being unlikely to meet the upcoming standard when it takes effect.

Monroe, Fulton, and Ottawa counties did not appear on that list because of their lack of air monitors.

The designations are more than a bureaucratic exercise: Out-of-compliance counties have a harder time getting industry to expand or locate in their regions because of the need for additional pollution controls and mandates for local air districts to curb smog.

At least 533 of the nation's 3,000 counties would be declared out of compliance if the federal EPA's 0.070 parts per million standard for ground-level ozone took effect today.

The figure likely would be more than 600 counties because of the number of adjoining counties without air monitors that are expected to be added, Mr. Millett said.

If the federal agency sets the new standard at 0.075 parts per million, no fewer than 398 counties would be out of compliance, he said.

U.S. EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson has made it clear he wants the standard tightened, Mr. Millett said.

He said the agency's proposal is based on 1,700 ozone studies it has reviewed since 1997.

Whatever level is proposed likely will be challenged in court.

The 1997 standard, recommended by former U.S. EPA Administrator Carol Browner during former President Bill Clinton's administration, survived years of litigation, including a challenge before the Supreme Court.

It took effect in 2004.

The standard is supposed to be reviewed at least once every five years and be updated so that it remains in sync with technology.

The National Association of Manufacturers - the nation's chief lobbyist group for that sector of the economy - called for the 1997 standard to remain in place.

"We recognize that the EPA has a duty to protect public health, and studies have shown implementing the current standard will do just that," said former Michigan Gov. John Engler, a Republican who now serves as that lobbying group's president.

"Even though a lot has been done and spent, there is still a long way to go to meet the current standard. Therefore, we see no reason to revise the current standard," Mr. Engler said.

Numerous environmental groups disagreed. They called on the Bush Administration to do more.

Dr. Norman Edelman, the American Lung Association's chief medical officer, called the U.S. EPA's announcement "a step toward cleaner air," yet one that falls short of peer-reviewed studies that show the federal agency can make a case for lowering the standard to 0.060 parts per million.

"We are particularly concerned that the EPA has left the door open to choosing options that are simply not acceptable. We have reason to be concerned," Dr. Edelman said.

Ohio EPA Director Chris Korleski said little, except to acknowledge it is important "to protect the health of all Ohioans" and that his agency will review the federal agency's proposal.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality echoed that sentiment.

"Obviously we've made a lot of progress here in Michigan to bring counties that were out of attainment back into attainment. By lowering the standard, that means we will have more work to do," Robert McCann, Michigan DEQ spokesman, said.

"It poses its challenges to be sure, when you're talking about an area that already has a lot of industry," he said.

Excessive smog can trigger heart attacks, bronchitis, and other health problems.

Ground-level ozone, a primary cause of smog, is one of six pollutants the government regulates under the Clean Air Act.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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