Lawmakers Urge New EPA Rules

August 1, 2003
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Michigan’s entire congressional delegation is united in pushing federal environmental regulators to consider pollution that originates elsewhere when setting down new clean-air rules for the state.

Of chief concern is the lack of consideration the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency traditionally gives to so-called transport pollution generated in Chicago, Gary, Ind., and Milwaukee that drifts across Lake Michigan and throws West Michigan into non-compliance with federal clean-air standards.

The federal lawmakers, in a show of bipartisan unity, urged the agency in a July 25 letter to EPA Interim Administrator Marianne Lamont-Horinko to allow the state as much flexibility as possible in meeting the federal Clean Air Act in order to minimize potential economic hardships.

We strongly support the Clean Air Act’s goal of achieving cleaner air in Michigan’s communities. However, we also believe that implementation and enforcement of the Clean Air Act should occur in a flexible manner that does not impose unnecessary economic, social and administrative costs,” states the letter signed by Michigan’s 15 representatives in the U.S. House and by U.S. Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow.

We can ill afford to jeopardize either our citizens’ health or economic well-being. Sound environmental protection policy demands that we satisfy both needs at all times.”

Political and business leaders across the state fear that counties deemed non-compliant with federal clean-air rules will have new air pollution regulations imposed that drive up the cost of doing business and bring economic growth to a grinding halt. The worry is that companies looking to expand or build a new factory will look instead to other states that lack ozone pollution problems and tougher restrictions on air emissions.

They want the EPA to take into account the effects of transport pollution that blows into the state over Lake Michigan from Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

“Michigan’s geography presents unique challenges that the agency must address in a scientifically responsible way. Failure to do so could have significant negative economic impacts without any positive environmental or health benefits,” said U.S. Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids.

In a July 15 filing with the EPA recommending 15 counties for designation as nonattainment, six of which are located along the Lake Michigan shoreline, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality asked federal regulators to consider transport pollution’s effects in West Michigan. “Overwhelming ozone transport,” the DEQ asserted in its filing, is the “sole reason for nonattainment level” at many air-quality monitors in the state that show levels of ground-level ozone that violate federal standards, even in counties such as Mason and Benzie where there is little or no industry.

Among the counties the DEQ recommended for a non-compliance designation, based on air monitor readings from 2000 to 2002, are Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan. The DEQ recommended a compliant designation for Kent County, although many expect the EPA to change that status because of violations recorded by air monitors in the Grand Rapids area during a warm spell in June.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm is “absolutely” behind efforts to secure “maximum” flexibility from the EPA in implementing how the state addresses air quality problems, spokeswoman Liz Boyd said.

G. Vinson Hellwig, chief of the DEQ’s Air Quality Division, is optimistic the EPA will work with the state and at least grant flexibility in establishing final rules and methods to bring the state into compliance.

Costly steps such as automotive tailpipe testing, vehicle maintenance programs and vapor-recovery systems on fuel pumps will do little to alleviate the ozone problem in West Michigan, Hellwig said.

“I’m still optimistic at this point,” he said. “There is certainly opportunity for them to give us some flexibility and I believe they will where they can legally.”

“We would like some opportunity for creative approaches to get reductions. We want the ability to develop some of our own innovative ideas and see if they work.” he said.

But even if the EPA agrees and grants the state the flexibility it wants, that doesn’t fully address the problem of transport pollution from other states that is generally believed to be the driving cause of West Michigan’s air-quality problems.

The state’s congressional delegation, in its July 25 letter, urged the EPA “to

strike an appropriate balance between transported air pollution and local control measures, consistent with the requirements of the Clean Air Act.”

Federal law presently does not allow the EPA to take transport pollution into account when considering new pollution-control measures for a region.

The issue ultimately will require congressional action, said Michael Johnston, director of regulatory affairs for the Michigan Manufacturers Association. Because problems with transport pollution drifting across Lake Michigan are so well documented, “West Michigan has a much more sympathetic case” for action, Johnston said.

One avenue the state may consider is filing a petition against the EPA in court to force the agency to impose tougher regulations on states where transport pollution originates and causes problems downwind.

The state DEQ is undecided on that approach, since it would only apply to stationary pollution sources such as power plants and factories, and not non-stationary sources like vehicles and small engines that cause a majority of the pollution, Hellwig said. There’s also a possibility that a resulting regional commission formed to address the transport pollution issue may come up with solutions that are not to Michigan’s liking, he said.

“There are issues with doing it that may not work out the way we would like it,” Hellwig said.       

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