Canton Repository

December 20, 2006

Cleaner Stark air may help attract industry to area

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service


WASHINGTON The air is cleaner in Stark County, and industry in particular is expected to benefit as it becomes less costly to locate or expand in the county, officials said Tuesday.

Federal environmental officials said the county has come into compliance with standards regulating ozone in the air and is on track to being redesignated as an attainment area.

Stark County had been among 33 counties in Ohio and 474 across the nation that fell short of compliance with tighter standards the federal government introduced in 2004 to reduce ozone.

Tuscarawas and Carroll counties have been in compliance with ozone regulations and thus would not be affected by the redesignation of Stark.

Ozone, or smog, can cause respiratory problems such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest pain. It forms when a mixture of pollutants - including nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds released by automobiles, power plants and factories - react on warm, sunny days.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that Stark, Allen and Belmont counties are in compliance with the limits based on the average level of ozone detected from 2003 to 2005. The counties were out of compliance in 2004 based on a 2001-2003 ozone average.

John Mooney, chief of the criteria pollutant section at the EPA, said records show the reduced ozone levels continued in 2006.

The EPA is proposing to redesignate the three counties as in attainment with ozone rules, as requested by Ohio officials.

The state also has asked the EPA to redesignate several other areas that have achieved compliance, including the Dayton-Springfield area and Jefferson County. State officials also plan to ask for redesignation of the Youngstown-Warren area.

MORE ATTRACTIVE TO INDUSTRY

If Stark County gets the anticipated ruling that it is in attainment following a required public-comment period, it would become a more attractive location for industry looking to move into or expand in the county.

That's because in attainment areas, the regulations that must be met to build or expand a plant that produces ozone-forming chemicals are less stringent.

"I'm happy that it happened," Robert Pattison, health commissioner for the Canton City Health Department, said of the EPA finding. "We've been working very hard to achieve that."

Officials said when Stark County fell out of compliance, the federal government implemented tighter and more costly emission-control regulations for new or expanding ozone-releasing facilities.

In addition, new or expanding businesses had to contend with a federal requirement that they purchase "offsets" from cleaner companies in order to operate in the county.

The tighter regulations and the offset program are not required in attainment areas.

Heidi Griesmer, spokeswoman for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, said when an area is out of compliance it is harder to attract industry.

"It's a stigma," she said.

Because Stark County was only slightly out of compliance, it was not required to adopt a vehicle emissions inspection program or have vapor-control nozzles installed on gasoline pumps. Those programs are in effect in nearby Summit County.

Griesmer said the state did require power plants to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions starting in 2004, which played a part in cleaning the air.

Area transportation officials also welcomed the county's compliance with ozone rules.

Paul Jaeger, technical director for the Stark County Area Transportation Study, said if the county had not come into compliance by 2009, it might have faced cuts in federal transportation funds.

"We're definitely relieved," he said.