April 16, 2004
Stark flunks new ozone guidelines
By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
Copley Washington correspondent
WASHINGTON — Stark County will escape a federal mandate to adopt a vehicle emissions testing program even though the county fails to meet tough new ozone standards announced Thursday.
It is still possible, however, that state officials could order the county vehicle testing as part of their strategy to clean up the air in those areas that are in violation of anti-pollution guidelines.
Stark is among 33 counties in Ohio and 474 across the nation that fall short of meeting new standards designed to further reduce ozone, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said.
Nearby Summit County is part of a larger region, including Cleveland, Akron and Lorain, which also fails to meet the new standards.
Ozone is a ground-level smog that aggravates asthma, damages the linings of the lungs and makes breathing more difficult. It forms when emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds cook in the sun. Cars, trucks, power plants and factories are primary sources of emissions that produce ozone.
Robert Pattison, health commissioner for the Canton City Health Department, expressed relief that Stark County avoided a federally imposed requirement to test how much individual cars and trucks are adding to the region’s dirty air.
“That’s what we had really anticipated,” he said. “We were hoping we would not be high enough up on the list of noncompliance that we would have to go with e-check.”
He was skeptical that the state would order the county to implement such a program, since it would create an uproar among local officials, he said.
“It’s too soon to rule it out” for counties like Stark, Ohio EPA spokesman Heidi Griesmer said. “Everything’s on the table as far as what we’re looking at.”
The new standards take effect June 15. States have three years to develop ozone reduction plans for counties in violation of the new anti-ozone standards. Griesmer said it is likely to take that long to complete the plans in Ohio. No new ozone-reduction measures will go into effect during that period, she said.
Stark and most other noncomplying counties in the state will escape a federally mandated emission check because they exceed the new standard by a minimal amount. The Cleveland-Akron-Lorain area, however, has a more serious ozone problem and will be required to continue its emissions check program, the EPA said.
In Stark County, it’s likely the state will mandate use of vapor control nozzles, which prevent gasoline vapors from escaping when motorists fill up at service stations, Pattison said. Other changes also could be required.
U.S. EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt said the new rules would accelerate the ongoing improvement of air quality.
“These rules are about our standards being tougher and our national resolve to meet them,” he said.
Since the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970, air pollution has been cut in half, he said. Leavitt said ozone levels last year were at their lowest point since 1980.
Environmental groups praised the tougher standard while faulting aspects of it.
“Today was a historic day, and the EPA and many parts of the country took a step forward by recognizing that there are serious ozone problems all across the country,” said Zach Corrigan, attorney for Clear the Air, a coalition of environmental groups.
He criticized the agency for leaving out 30 other counties he claims should have been designated as failing to meet the new standard. Corrigan also charged that the new rule lacks tight federal controls that have forced states to improve air quality in the past.
The costs of the new program will be apparent in a 1- to 2-cent increase in gasoline prices, as well as higher prices for motor vehicles, officials said.
After the state develops a plan to bring Stark and other parts of Ohio into compliance, those jurisdictions will have until 2009 to meet the standards. Cleveland, Akron and Lorain will be given an additional year because their problems are more serious.
Any state plan is certain to target power plant emissions as well as motor vehicles.
The new standard seeks to reduce ozone levels based on research that shows longer-term exposure to lower levels can affect human health.
Under the previous standard, up to 0.12 parts per million of ozone were allowed, averaged over one hour. The new standard is 0.08 parts per million averaged over eight hours.
In Ohio, only the Cincinnati-Hamilton area still fails to meet the old standards. Several other counties, including Stark and Summit, were in noncompliance at one time but have since reduced ozone levels to required limits.
Counties not meeting federal air quality standards
By The Associated Press
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the following Ohio counties, listed by metropolitan area or large town, are out of compliance with federal air quality standards: Canton-Massillon
Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Hamilton, Warren
Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Portage, Summit
Delaware, Fairfield, Franklin, Knox, Licking, Madison
Clark, Greene, Miami, Montgomery
Columbiana, Mahoning, Trumbull