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Tougher air standards are coming

By Thomas Gnau

A settlement between environmental groups and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has local business leaders wondering: What would the impact of tougher air pollution rules be here?

A court settlement filed by a coalition of groups this week in Washington, D.C.’s federal court will force the agency to determine which areas fail to meet national air standards for ozone by April 2004, according to a statement from the Ohio Environmental Council.

Air quality in every major Ohio city and cities in 38 states will likely fail to meet the standard, the group said.

“In order to meet these standards, we’ll have to make big reductions in pollution from sources like power plants and diesel engines,” Kurt Waltzer, the council’s clean air program coordinator, said in the statement.

Glen Brand, a Cincinnati-based Sierra Club Midwest regional representative, called the settlement “a great victory for public health in Southwest Ohio because we have such a serious air pollution problem.”

New standards will force leaders to deal with “poorly planned” sprawl and development and consider investments in public transportation, Brand said.

But David Daugherty, president of Mid-Miami Valley Chamber of Commerce, which represents businesses in Middletown, Monroe and Trenton, is casting a wary eye on the news. Daugherty used to work in the Youngstown area, where he said stringent environmental regulations, among other factors, caused the closure of many mills.

Daugherty said today there is “no smoke” in the Youngstown-Warren area in northeastern Ohio.

“Guess what?” he said. “There are no jobs. Crime is going through the roof.”

He called the Youngstown area “beyond depressed,” noting double-digit unemployment rates.

He acknowledged that 20 years ago there were some areas of the country so troubled environmentally, he had no desire to live there. But he seeks balance between unfettered entrepreneurism and regulatory strangulation.

New air rules, he said, “could have a significant impact on the ability of businesses to expand and grow in this area.”

It’s too soon to know how new rules might affect AK Steel Corp.’s Middletown Works, said Alan McCoy, AK’s vice president of public affairs. AK is the largest employer in Middletown and Butler and Warren counties.

“There are no rules issued, no guidance at this point,” he said.

But he also said that AK already has done much to reduce chemicals that cause ozone. And he said Middletown Works accounts for perhaps “two-tenths of one percent” of the chemicals that lead to ozone locally.

“Cars and trucks are by far the largest single” contributor, he said.

McCoy added: “When the sale of barbecue grills and barbecue sauce are outlawed, we’ll have the Sierra Club to thank.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Brand said. He said local governments decide how to meet standards and they can choose from several options, including tax credits for alternative-fuel vehicles.



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