Saturday, January 22, 2000

City about to enter 'clean-air' category

EPA says area is finally in compliance

Enquirer Washington Bureau

        WASHINGTON — After hinting at the possibility last year, federal officials are moving to redesignate Cincinnati as a clean-air city.

        The Environmental Protection Agency said Friday that it will publish a new proposed regulation in about a week calling for the redesignation of Cincinnati from “moderate nonattainment” to “attainment” when it comes to air pollution standards.

        While the agency will take time to receive comments on the issue and possibly hold hearings, the redesignation could become official as early as April, agency spokesman Dave Ryan said.

        It would be the first time since 1979 that the Cincinnati area has been in compliance with air-pollution standards governing smog.

        “It confirms that we have good air quality here,” said Eugene Langschwager, environmental engineer with the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce.

        The redesignation was supposed to have happened last summer but was delayed as the EPA received two stunning federal court rulings on air pollution matters that challenged its regulatory authority.

        A switch to attainment status is regarded by area officials as not only a sign of healthier air but a boost to economic development efforts.

        Firms frequently are hesitant to move to areas with air pollution problems because of expected additional costs they would have to bear to meet air standards.

        “It puts us on the same footing with most of the metro areas around the country, a lot of those areas with which we compete,” Mr. Langschwager said.

        The EPA is proposing the redesignation because Cincinnati has had three years in a row of clean air, Mr. Ryan said.

        Members of the area's congressional delegation, who, along with local officials, lobbied the EPA for the redesignation, said the move is overdue.

        “The Greater Cincinnati community has worked together, through a variety of coordinated programs, to improve the quality of Ohio's air,” Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said in a letter to EPA Administrator Carol Browner.

        Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Cincinnati, added: “I'm very pleased the EPA is going to move us into the attainment category. I think it is long overdue. I think it says a lot about our community, that we are serious about cleaning up the air in Greater Cincinnati.”

        Once the change to attainment is official, Cincinnati will have more cushion between it and the “serious nonattainment” rating that can result in such sanctions as reduced federal highway money or more costly air pollution control requirements for businesses and motorists.

        Mr. Voinovich has said that stepped-up emissions testing for cars, known as E-check, has been pivotal in improving Ohio air quality.

        The Cincinnati area will be the last of 26 multi-county regions in Ohio to be brought from nonattainment to attain ment during the past 10 years.

        “Ohio is doing its part to provide cleaner air,” Mr. Voinovich said.

        But despite its progress, Cincinnati's battles with the EPA may not be over.

        The EPA still wants to impose a tougher set of air-pollution standards on American cities in the near future, a plan that, based on current air monitoring data, would put Cincinnati in nonattainment again.

        The agency's move to impose tougher rules has been hindered by a federal lawsuit decided last summer in favor of utilities and other industry groups. The Clinton administration is contemplating an appeal of that ruling to the Supreme Court.

        Even before the appeal is decided, the EPA may go ahead and designate which cities meet and don't meet the new standards even though it wouldn't have the authority to enforce them.

        “We have cleared one set of hurdles. Now we can look forward to the next,” Mr. Langschwager said.


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