County Coordinator David Ashburn said the county “dodged a bullet” by meeting the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s, or EPA's, ozone level guidelines, but may get slapped with other restrictions as early as next year for not meeting particulate standards.
Particulate refers to a variety of particles, often pollutants, found in the air.
“The particulate matter is another thing,” Ashburn said. “We have a (particulate) monitor here in the county. If you look at the three-year history on it, you see a downhill slide toward being in compliance. But it’s one of those things that is not quite there yet.
“EPA is currently saying they are going to abide by their deadline of Dec. 15 to announce those fine particulate nonattainment areas, and we do have a violating monitor in Walker County,” said Terry Johnson, of the EPD Air Quality Branch. “Based on our recent conversations with EPA, so they’re basing their decision on the 2001 through 2003 data that shows a violation of the standard.”
The 2004 data shows a downward trend that could bring Walker into compliance, but that data cannot be used unless the EPA chooses to extend its deadline by several weeks, Johnson said.
“I’m still hopeful that they will delay their designations until early in 2005,” he said. “Hopefully that will give us enough time to quality assure the 2004 data (for submission). If they make their final decision in December, that won’t give us time.”
“Our contention is that since they’ve cut a lot of industry out of Chattanooga, the air quality has gotten a lot better,” Ashburn said. “If they keep doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”
Walker County will enforce some voluntary actions to improve air quality, including restricting burning on bad ozone days, Ashburn said. Days when ozone levels are high usually coincide with days when burning is limited anyway, he said.
Exempt, for now
For now, Walker won’t be on the federal list that, local officials claim, would have stifled industry by unfairly subjecting it to tougher air-quality standards.
EPA officials last Thursday released a list of 473 counties nationwide — including 24 in Georgia — that did not meet their air-quality guidelines.
Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell lobbied state and federal officials to exempt the county. Local, state and federal officials praised the decision by the federal EPA not to place Walker on its air-pollution standards list.
If Bebe had not taken such a proactive position on this, there is no question they would have included us," Walker County Attorney Don Oliver said Thursday. "Actually, they did include us, and we had to fight our way out of it."
What is particulate matter?
Particulate matter is the general term used for a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air.
Some particles are large or dark enough to be seen as soot or smoke. Others are so small they can be detected only with an electron microscope. These particles originate from many different stationary and mobile sources, as well as from natural sources.
Fine particles result from fuel combustion from motor vehicles, power generation and industrial facilities, as well as from residential fireplaces and wood stoves. Coarse particles are generally emitted from sources, such as vehicles traveling on unpaved roads, materials handling, and crushing and grinding operations, as well as windblown dust.
Some particles are emitted directly from their sources, such as smokestacks and cars. In other cases, gases such as sulfur oxide, interact with other compounds in the air to form fine particles. Their chemical and physical compositions vary depending on location, time of year and weather. (Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)
Walker’s inclusion "had the potential to be a terrible detriment," Oliver said. "It would have killed us in industrial recruitment and trying to get road funds. We couldn’t have paved roads or anything without going through red tape. If industry has the chance to go where they have to fight (tougher air-quality laws) or where they don’t, they’re going to go where they don’t have to fight."
Heiskell last week said she was pleased with the EPA’s decision because industry recruitment is competitive and Walker’s inclusion would have hurt the county’s economic development.
Joint Development Authority director Kathy Johnson said the federal decision will let Walker County continue with its plans for economic growth and development. If Walker had not passed muster, new and more limited plans would have been necessary.
Walker will work with neighboring counties, such as Catoosa, that will be placed under the tougher restrictions and to protect the region’s air quality, she said.
"If we should be able to get an industry that maybe our neighbors could not,” Heiskell said, “it could also provide jobs for those other people in the region."
Walker is more fortunate than some areas that tried voluntary restrictions to avoid falling under the federal regulations, Heiskell said.
"The EPA did not accept early action compacts from Chattanooga, Knoxville and Memphis, and they are going to placed (on the list), along with Catoosa County, within the next 60 days," she said.
“The shock to Chattanooga and Catoosa County is worse than expected. (EPA) did not approve the early action compact according to EPD,” Ashburn said. “That means that all of the actions they were going to put in to use the next three years to come into compliance is gone. EPD is going come in and put heavy restrictions on them from the word go.”
“It’s not just bad,” he said. “It’s the worst case scenario that they could run into.”
Ashburn said cleaner-burning fuels are available that lower pollution levels, but the EPA must approve them before regions may put it to use.
“You can request that it be part of your plan, but they’re the ones who actually make that happen,” Ashburn said. “To me, it’s stupid not to require that all over the country and make air better now, but unfortunately the gasoline people have heavy politics in Washington, D.C. Apparently, there are only certain layers of gas that they can use for that, then they have to have ways to get rid of their other gas.”
Houston County, in central Georgia and east of Macon, was also removed from the original list.
The EPA bases non-designation of pollution levels on measurement of ozone over an eight-hour period. The agency then uses a series of guidelines to determine whether an area should be included. Walker and Houston counties were part of 26 Georgia counties the EPA said had violated these ozone levels. Most of the counties are in the Atlanta area.
After the EPA issued its original list of hundreds of U.S. counties, it added Houston and Walker County to the list. Georgia’s Environmental Protection Department disagreed strongly, and pointed out research from Georgia Tech that showed that implementation of existing federal standards would bring Houston County into compliance by 2007.
A ruling to be placed on the list adversely affects new industry and the acquisition of federal transportation funds, state and federal officials said. More importantly, this designation turn could have had a negative impact on Department of Defense plans to close or maintain military installations in affected areas, they said