2010 April 2: NC Lexington (Davidson County): Commissioners push for EPA air quality attainment designation

2010 April 2: NC Lexington (Davidson County): Commissioners push for EPA air quality attainment designation

By Heather J. Smith
The Dispatch

Published: Friday, April 2, 2010 at 9:17 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 2, 2010 at 9:17 p.m.

( page all of 3 )

Though Davidson County levels of fine particulate matter air pollution have been below national environmental standards for three years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will not list the county as having attained acceptable levels, according to the N.C. Division of Air Quality.

During the Davidson County Board of Commissioners informational meeting Thursday morning, Planning and Zoning Director Guy Cornman suggested the board partner with other areas faced with a similar situation in appealing to Congressional delegates to be granted attainment status.

“At the end of 2009, NCDAQ submitted to the EPA their final report showing all the different tests and monitoring data they had taken in the county,” Cornman said. “Technically, we are in compliance with the air quality requirements. However, I wanted to refer you to a letter that was received by NCDAQ in December stating the EPA wanted to put on hold indefinitely a final decision about designating the county as being compliant.”

According to standards outlined by the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) adopted by the EPA in 2005, particulate matter count in the Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point area, of which Davidson County is included, meets national standards.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in 2008 that CAIR had fatal flaws. The court required the EPA to replace it with a new set of air quality rules. Until the EPA finalized those new rules, the court ruled CAIR standards would be followed.

The EPA will announce those new rules soon, and will delay redesignating nonattainment areas until new rules are finalized. That may take more than a year, according to NCDAQ.

“It was suggested that we might want to work cooperatively with the other areas that are (in) nonattainment and try to work with our Congressional delegation and also maybe put leverage on the EPA to make that designation,” Cornman said. “Particularly in this era of our economy where we have high unemployment rates, we don’t really need this as an impediment.”

Commissioners gave the nod to join Hickory, Catawba County, Guilford County and the Piedmont Triad Council of Governments in lobbying the EPA to redesignate air quality status now.

Laura Boothe is the attainment planning branch manager for the N.C. Division of Air Quality. She said consequences for nonattainment are very real, namely as a detriment to economic development. A manufacturer might look at a number of sites before building a new location. They’ll look at the air quality attainment designation for each area and if one of those isn’t at attainment levels, the company usually moves on.

It is not for lack of the company’s environmental concern, Boothe explained. Any company that produces air pollution in a region of nonattainment is required by law to offset its yearly amount of emissions by 101 percent.

“So, let’s say the company produces 1,000 pounds of pollutants in a year,” she said. “The company would have to remove 1,000 pounds of pollutants plus 1 percent.”

There are different ways the company can offset emissions, either by doing it themselves or paying a specialized business to do it for them. But the whole process boils down to money the company would not have to spend if it moved to an area the EPA said was in attainment.

Boothe said the NCDAQ has heard nothing from the EPA since the state sent monitor station data and an appeal that the designation be changed. Whether it results in action now is unclear.

“The impression we’re getting is that the EPA isn’t going to move forward until the new rule is finalized,” Boothe said.

Commissioner Chairman Dr. Max Walser said Davidson County was being unfairly punished for the pollution generated by other counties and states. Even after the county spent millions of dollars on successfully reducing emissions released into the air by factories miles away, the EPA denied Davidson County the attainment designation which data proves it deserves.

“Of my eight years on the commission, this is the one of the few things I’ve been extremely disappointed in,” Walser said. “It’s that we’ve had to spend all this money to fight the EPA over something that’s not our fault. It’s a tragedy.”

Heather J. Smith can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 228 or at heatherj.smith@the-dispatch.com.

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