Tuesday, March 30, 1999

Tristate juggles two standards for smog

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A potentially costly environmental foul-up again threatens Tristate industries.

        By 1994, the seven counties of Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky had reduced smog-related ozone to federal limits.

        However, indecision at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allowed 1995 smog to overtake Tristate success.

        Ozone monitors recorded a violation and EPA refused to designate the region as “in attainment.”

        Instead, the agency granted annual extensions through 1998 and initiated a new cycle of anxious summers.

        Last year, Hamilton, Butler, Warren, Clermont, Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties completed another three-year test period without violating the ozone standard.

Balancing act
        Monday, EPA was preparing the paperwork that would officially recognize that achievement. In it, the agency is to acknowledge compliance implicitly by dropping the old standard and phasing in a new, national limit.

        However, if the 1999 smog season kicks in and there is a violation at any of the seven ozone monitors in Ohio and three in Kentucky under the existing standard, all bets are off.

        EPA would have to consider dumping the region into “serious non-attainment” and ordering sanctions which the chamber of commerce says would cost tens of millions of dollars annually.

        Those would include anti-smog regulations for smaller companies and require existing industries to cut 1.5 tons of smog-related emissions for every additional ton emitted by expanding or new companies, said Judi Craig, spokeswoman for the Regional Ozone Coalition. Northern Kentucky could be required to put vapor-recovery nozzles on gas pumps, something already ubiquitous in Southwest Ohio.

        “It's possible, but we are trying to move and complete this action by the end of May,” EPA environmental scientist Bill Jones said on Monday. “That's my best estimate.”

        Once the compliance notice is reviewed and approved by the EPA's regional office in Chicago, it goes to Washington, D.C., for EPA Administrator Carol Browner's signature.

        The law then requires a 30-day public comment period and EPA review to those comments. Only then can the agency issue a final ruling.

Smog season looms
        Barring unseasonably hot, sunny weather, Mr. Jones said, the EPA could close the books before the smog season kicked in.

        Assuming the EPA acts quickly and certifies Tristate compliance, a new dance begins.

        Under the current standard, ozone over 124 parts per billion measured during one hour was an exceedance. More than three exceedances at any ozone monitor during a three-year period was a violation.

        That national one-hour standard was not tough enough, the EPA said, so it imposed a new limit:

        • Ozone readings will be averaged over eight continuous hours at each monitor.

        • At the end of three years, the fourth-highest daily average from each monitor for each of the three years will be averaged.

        • Anything over 84 ppb will be a violation.

        That's called the eight-hour standard, and it's being phased in in Dayton and Cleveland metro areas, which met the one-hour standard.

        “Don't worry about the eight-hour standard right now,” Mr. Jones said, because eight-hour monitoring would not begin before mid-2000.

        No one expects the Tristate — or other urban counties — to meet the eight-hour standard without dramatic reductions in nitrogen oxides (NOx).

        NOx — produced largely by vehicle exhaust and coal-fired power stations — combines with other gases to create ozone, the eye-stinging and breath-taking villain in smog.

        Southwest Ohio drivers are doing everything the EPA asks to reduce NOx through E-check emissions tests.

        Northern Kentucky is adopting tougher emissions tests and is using reformulated gasoline.

        EPA wants coal-fired power stations to provide most of the new NOx reductions by 2003, but Ohio EPA, Cinergy and others are suing, saying required 85 percent NOx reductions by 2003 are overkill. OEPA and five other states say 65 percent would suffice. States are to submit NOx reduction plans to EPA by Sept. 30.


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- Tristate juggles two standards for smog