Yesterday, U.S. EPA announced a proposed rulemaking to formally recognize Cleveland and nearby counties as achieving the 1997 8-hour ozone standard (.085ppb). As discussed in a previous post, this is very good news for Northeast Ohio businesses in any of the following counties: Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Portage, and Summit. U.S. EPA is taking comments on the proposed action until July 13th.
Three years ago the best experts thought it was impossible for Northeast Ohio to achieve the ozone standard by the 2010 deadline. As a result, draconian measures were suggested by U.S. EPA, including "bumping up" to the next higher non-attainment classification "serious." Such an action would have made economic growth in the area much more difficult. It would also have increased environmental compliance costs for area businesses.
The chart to the left shows the various federal pollution reduction programs that are mandated based upon non-attainment classification. The chart shows the higher the classification of non-attainment the more federal mandates that will apply.
Northeast Ohio has been at a distinct disadvantage relative to other areas of the state due to its ozone non-attainment status. It is the only "moderate" non-attainment are in the State. This results in increased compliance costs for area businesses and also placed restrictions on economic growth not applicable to the rest of the State. These disadvantages would have been magnified if the Cleveland-Akron-Lorain area was forced to have "bumped up" to serious non-attainment.
Once U.S. EPA finalizes the redesignation to attainment, these disadvantage disappear. Cleveland-Akron-Lorain will be able to compete equally for new business growth opportunities. All of this should be really good news for business and the citizens in Northeast Ohio.
The Plain Dealer failed to capture this fact in its coverage of the U.S. EPA ozone announcement. Instead it focused on the temporary nature of the Cleveland-Akron-Lorain attainment status. U.S. EPA has adopted a stricter ozone standard (.075ppb) which will likely be applied in 2010. Current air monitoring shows Northeast Ohio around .084 ppb for ozone which means the same eight counties will once again be deemed "non-attainment" for ozone.
While it is true the attainment status is temporary, concentrating only on this aspect of the story misses the broader picture. If the area failed to achieve the 1997 ozone standard it would have faced more regulation and impediments to growth. Now it appears unlikely that Cleveland-Akron-Lorain will receive a higher non-attainment classification than other major metropolitan areas in the State. This means it will be able to compete equally with Columbus and Cincinnati for new jobs in the future even if it is once again considered "non-attainment."
The temporary attainment status may present a short window of opportunity for area businesses. If a business was looking to expand its facility or construct a new facility that would be considered a "major source" of air pollution, it may be able to obtain requisite permits easier than previously. But businesses will have to be quick to take advantage if such a window presents itself. U.S. EPA is set to make formal designation under the new .075 ppb ozone standard in 2010. At most this means businesses could have a year to act.