Thursday, March 28, 2002

New standards should clear the air

But the improvements will carry higher costs

By James Pilcher,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Fewer people at the hospital with breathing trouble. Exhaust filters for lawn mowers. Cleaner burning but more expensive blends of gasoline. And no more taking a passing grade at the E-check station for granted.

        Those are some of the potential changes that environmental and economic officials see coming to the Tri state in the next three years, after a federal appeals court Tuesday upheld new clean air standards.

        The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had sought the standards — the first tightening of anti-smog rules since 1979 — for five years.

        “It's going to be a hit in the pocketbook, no question about that,” said Eugene Langschwager, the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Com merce's director of environmental projects.

        The new standards will reduce the amount of ozone — commonly called smog — that any given community can have in the air, as well as curb particulates.

        More than 100 counties violate the standards, EPA officials say. Southwestern Ohio is in violation of the current standard on ozone — an invisible and odorless lung irritant that's created when certain gases released by vehicles, factories and power plants react with sunlight.

        “There actually will be a benefit, because we'll be significantly reducing health care costs for people now suffering from respiratory illness,” said Glen Brand, a Cincinnati-based Midwest organizer for the Sierra Club.

        Tuesday's ruling appears to end a long legal battle that included a lawsuit by several states, including Ohio, and

        organizations representing manufacturers, power providers and the trucking industry, which said the EPA did not have the regulatory authority to impose the tighter standards.

        Despite the Bush administration's recent reversals of several Clinton administration pollution regulations, EPA chief Christie Whitman pledged to enact the new standards as soon as possible.

        Any areas that fail to meet the ozone standard for an extended period risk having federal transportation funds withheld.

        Earlier this year, the EPA ruled southwestern Ohio out of compliance with current — not the stricter — standards, even though last summer's air quality measurements were not above current limits. The EPA faulted Ohio for not putting pollution controls on several industries, including aerospace manufacturing. Northern Kentucky was ruled to be in compliance.

        Greater Cincinnati has not yet been threatened with losing transportation funds.

        Officials with the Ohio EPA, which is responsible for crafting a plan for meeting air quality standards, said Tuesday it's too early to tell what the new rules mean.

        But others with a stake in the issue offered several possibilities, including:

        • Tougher E-check standards.

        • The required use of cleaner reformulated gas (it's already mandatory in Northern Kentucky).

        • Tougher standards on diesel-burning vehicles such as tractor-trailers. (Interstate 75 is the most heavily traveled truck route in the nation.)

        Rich Biersdorfer, who owns a trucking company in Carthage, said tougher emission standards on diesel tractor-trailers could put several trucking companies out of business.

        “Trucks already burn cleaner and hotter than they have in years, and any other changes would be a wait-and-see thing to see if they would be cost effective,” Mr. Biersdorfer said.

        Cinergy Corp., the area's primary energy provider and operator of several coal-burning plants in the region, believes it is already taking steps to bring it into compliance the new standards.

        The utility holding company is investing $800 million in new controls at several of its power plants to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions.

        Enquirer reporter Mike Boyer contributed to this report.


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