EPA Frustrates The GR Chamber

April 21, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — The EPA’s designation of West Michigan as an area of “air quality non-attainment” is a potentially devastating result of an ill-designed and clumsy Air Pollution Act.

That, at least, is how a frustrated Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce reacted Monday to the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent designation of West Michigan as an area of air quality non-attainment.

Jeanne Englehart, president of the chamber, said the designation “will be devastating to our region’s growth.”

The chamber’s frustration is that the EPA statutorily has no choice about making the designation, even though the agency acknowledges that West Michigan’s supposedly poor air quality doesn’t result from environmental misdeeds by industry and citizens in the region.

Rather, it stems from heavy atmospheric pollutant loadings that prevailing winds transport here from the Chicago-Milwaukee megalopolis.

Englehart said the unfavorable designation would negatively impact citizens, businesses and future job creation even though citizens and business bear no responsibility for the air quality non-attainment.

Another aspect of the chamber’s response is that in terms of environmental protection, West Michigan is widely recognized as being a region of leadership and innovation that has spent and continues to spend heavily to clean up its own act.

The EPA acknowledges that fact as far as Kent and Ottawa counties are concerned, by linking them under its sub-part 1 “Basic” classification. This protects the two counties from being given a worse air quality classification should transported pollution become worse than it is presently.

The agency has given a similar recognition to Muskegon County even though EPA instrumentation there records far heavier loadings of cross-lake air pollution than Kent and Ottawa.

“While we remain troubled that West Michigan is classified as non-attainment,” Englehart said, “we are pleased the EPA has recognized the contributions transport pollution is making to our air quality.”

The chamber applauded the efforts of Congressman Vernon Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids, Congressman Peter Hoekstra, R-Holland, and U.S. Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, who have worked together in trying to get the EPA to lighten up on the region.

“We will continue to work with Congressman Ehlers, Hoekstra and U.S. Senators Stabenow and Levin on freeing Michigan from the constraints of the current law.”

She said the chamber is committed to removing West Michigan’s non-attainment status through a legislative fix. She said the energy bill pending in Congress has a relief mechanism that would require the EPA to assess all non-attainment areas throughout the region and to work more closely with the state and affected local governments when dealing with transported pollution.

“West Michigan needs our congressional delegation to insist on a change in the Clean Air Act to protect West Michigan jobs,” Engelhart said.

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