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EPA Ground Ozone Changes: What Does it Mean for Our Economy?

Posted by: Katie Busbee on Wednesday, February 18, 2015
We all like breathing cleaning air. And we’re all aware that ozone means bad things for air we breathe. The negative health effects of ozone are numerous, from airway irritation and coughing, to permanent lung damage with repeated exposure. As a result, the EPA is proposing to further restrict ground ozone through new regulations. However, you might not be aware of are how these new regulations will affect you and our local economy. These regulations will strengthen the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) by changing the ground ozone regulations from its current standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb) to somewhere between 65-70 ppb. While the new standards are likely to settle somewhere in this range, the EPA is also taking comments on going as low as 60 ppb. Ground Ozone is created largely due to emissions from automobiles and industrial facilities, as well as gasoline vapors and chemical solvents – not necessarily trees, as a former president said three decades ago. Counties that do not come within the designated regulation are issued a “nonattainment” status.  A nonattainment status means that the county’s Design Value, or ground ozone reading, is higher than the regulations defined by the EPA. Although DHEC monitors counties’ ground ozone throughout the year, the Design Value is based off a 3 year average of these readings.  So nonattainment status is issued based on a three year snapshot of ground ozone readings. So what does a nonattainment status affect? Oh, you know, just the economy and practically your entire quality of life. Nonattainment status can make it extremely difficult to obtain building permits, which shuts down any expansion and growth for existing companies, and discourages new companies to settle. Existing companies who cannot expand may choose to relocate. This also includes delaying any projects that are currently in the works. No expansion means no new jobs. No companies mean no jobs, period. For any area this can be devastating, but for rural areas whose workforce relies heavily on several industrial or manufacturing employers, this can have a devastating impact on quality of life for all those living in the area. While no county in South Carolina has ever been issued nonattainment status, we can take a lesson from other cities/counties that have felt the shattering effects of nonattainment. Birmingham, Ala. was issued a nonattainment status in the 1970’s, and it took them nearly 30 years to regain attainment status, finally doing so in 2012. During this time they lost over $5 billion in economic development and thousands of jobs. More recently, Baton Rouge, La. has felt the blow from the EPA’s proposed changes, - an $86 million blow in annual wages- and they aren’t even currently under nonattainment status. In 2014 the Baton Rouge Area Chamber was working on bringing four chemical manufacturers to their area, all of whom have decided to look elsewhere because Baton Rouge is in danger of nonattainment under these proposed changes. At the mention of EPA ground ozone changes, projects are currently being put on the back burner in Baton Rouge, in fear of an impending nonattainment status. As for our counties in the Upstate Coalition, based on DHEC’s 2014 non-certified Design Values, all of our counties are within the 65-70 range, or lower. However, since nonattainment is based on a 3-year average, all of our counties are in danger of nonattainment status if the regulation lands at 65 ppb. Yet, DHEC is confident that nearly all of our counties could meet attainment with current efforts. Most of the concern lies with Spartanburg. According to recent numbers that have yet to certified by DHEC, Spartanburg’s 2014 reading was 66 ppb, and their 2011-2013 Designation Value was 72 ppb. If the regulation were to drop to 60 ppb (which is unlikely, but the EPA is throwing it out there and testing the waters), it would mean certain nonattainment for nearly the entire state. Although it is certainly too early to declare any kind of doom and gloom on any of our counties, this is something that businesses in the Upstate should be concerned about, and keep a watch on. It’s also important to note that while we are concerned about the negative effects of these changes on our economy, we are also concerned about the quality of the air we breathe. DHEC has recommended many ways to reduce air pollution, including carpooling, not idling, using gas or electric heat, maintaining automobiles, inflating tires properly, among other ideas proposed by the EPA that businesses and counties can get involved with. There is a middle ground to be found between environmental watchdogs and business owners. The EPA will be taking comments on these proposed changes until March 17th. Individuals and Businesses can make comments via several different avenues. The Upstate Chamber Coalition will also be drafting a letter in opposition to 60 ppb that we are encouraging our 13 member chambers to sign onto. If you’re a member of one of our Coalition chambers and you have any questions about this, or any other policy issue, feel free to shoot me an email and I’ll be happy to answer your questions.

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