State to EPA: ‘Crittenden County meeting ozone standards’

MPO study director pleased with news

By Ralph Hardin ralphhardin@gmail.com

Crittenden County, both individually and as part of the Greater Memphis Metropolitan Are, has battled with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a decade on being in compliance with federal ozone standards. Since 2005, the county has struggled to get, maintain and/or regain its status as an Economic Development Zone. Poor air quality standards can hinder the area’s ability to garner grants and other funding for federal and state supported projects and incentives. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday asked the EPA to designate Crittenden County as being in compliance with federal ozone standards. Under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, an area is considered to be in compliance with ozone standards if the three-year average of the annual fourth highest daily ozone concentration levels is no more than 75 parts-per-billion. A daily ozone concentration level is the average concentration over an 8-hour period. While it seems like a complex formula — and it is, with the modeling standards in a constant state of flux — the bottom line is that the governor, based on data provided by the ADEQ, feels that the county has met those standards well enough to warrant re-classification. The EPA has classified Crittenden County, along with Shelby County, Tenn., and a portion of DeSoto County, Miss., as a “marginal non-attainment area.” Areas in non-attainment are subject to more stringent air-quality controls. In a letter to EPA Region 6 Administrator Ron Curry, Hutchinson said ozone monitoring for 2012-2014 shows that Crittenden County “has attained and continues to attain” compliance. “The majority of reductions have been realized from federal measures related to mobile sources and electrical power generation. In addition, continuing new emissions control programs will help to ensure a further decrease in emissions throughout the area in the future,” Hutchinson said in the letter. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality said Tuesday the state is submitting a maintenance plan to the EPA outlining measures to keep the area in compliance for at least the next 10 years. The plan includes measures such as truck-stop electrification, which keeps trucks from idling; use of alternative fuels; carpool lots; and public transportation improvements. “We’re urging EPA to take swift action given the area’s status as a critical transportation and economic corridor in the state,” ADEQ Director Becky Keogh said in a news release. “We’d like to see a decision from EPA in six months — a time frame we feel will give them ample time to review our monitoring data and maintenance plan.” West Memphis MPO study director Eddie Brawley was pleased with the news. “We were happy to hear it,” said Brawley, who back in 2011, likened the ever-changing standards to “moving the goal-posts” every time a new module was put in place. “We are in compliance, and hopefully, we’ll be able to get the designation,” he added. “It could take some time, because it has to go through the EPA and everything, but it’s a step in the right direction. There’s talk about lowering the standards again, but even by those standards, we’ve still been in compliance over the past three years.” Ozone is desirable in the upper atmosphere because it helps shield the Earth from cosmic radiation, but at ground level it can cause or aggravate respiratory conditions or other problems for humans and animals, as well as damage crops and other vegetation.

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