Politics & Government

EPA's clean air rules face resistance from N.C.

The state agency responsible for enforcing air pollution standards is fighting a federal move to mandate cleaner air.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce the nation's strictest-ever ozone limits this month. The decision will put the Triangle and much of the country in violation of national air pollution standards and require states to figure out ways to make the air cleaner at a time when money is tight and the economy fragile.

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources is urging the EPA to weigh the economic consequences of cutting ground-level ozone, or smog, even though the EPA is prohibited by law from considering costs when setting pollution standards. The state agency contends that imposing stricter ozone standards could result in people losing their jobs, homes and health insurance, which is not in the public interest.

"The bottom line is we're going to need additional pollution controls to achieve those lower standards," said Sheila Holman, director of the Division of Air Quality at DENR. "What is better for North Carolina's citizens at this point? Do you want to keep them working with health care, or potentially face more layoffs?"

The EPA estimates that in 2020 alone, the cost of reducing ozone-forming emissions in this region could cost from $70 million to $4.1 billion, depending on how strict the EPA sets the new ozone standard. That higher cost would cover anti-smog measures in 136 counties in North Carolina and South Carolina.

But the EPA also estimates that the health benefits of cleaner air will exceed the compliance costs to local governments and industries. Much of the work in setting the nation's ozone limits is done in Research Triangle Park by EPA's Office of Air Quality Planning & Standards.

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