11:32 am - Monday May 28, 2012

Rules May Toughen If Pollution Worsens

Air pollution in the Dayton area is on the verge of violating federal air quality requirements, but new regulatory measures will make the air here easier to breathe and help the state comply, state and local regulatory officials said Tuesday.

The key standard the area threatens to exceed is for ozone, which helps create smog. The area, which includes Montgomery, Clark, Darke, Greene, Preble and Miami counties, met the standard in 2008 through 2010, but did not in 2011, said John Paul, director of the Dayton-based Regional Air Pollution Control Agency.

In 2011, the Dayton area exceeded the ozone standard on 11 days. This year, the region has exceeded the standard on two days, Paul said.

If the trend continues over three years, new industry could face requirements such as paying additional money to make up for emissions. Before that would happen, potential local fixes could kick in.

They could include mandates that school buses and trucks refrain from idling, or that simple voluntary actions be taken by residents.

airpollutionThere’s also a slim chance of reimposing vehicle emissions testing. It was discontinued in southwest Ohio in 2005 but is still in effect in seven counties in the Cleveland-Akron area.

Ohio has already imposed restrictions on consumer products that have had the effect of lowering emissions that contribute to smog. Heidi Griesmer, spokeswoman for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, said Ohio requires that only low-emission gasoline containers, paints, stains and similar products be sold here. Industrial sources for ozone and smog are not very high, at 10 percent of all sources.

The U.S. EPA is moving toward a nationwide requirement that low-sulfur gasoline be used in automobiles. Lowering the sulfur content by two-thirds would dramatically reduce smog, but it would push up the cost per gallon by an estimated 3 cents, Paul said. Low-sulfur requirements in diesel fuels for on-the-road vehicles are already in effect.

Tough new EPA standards - and cheap natural gas prices - are pushing coal-fired power plants around the nation to convert to natural gas or close, lowering emissions that contribute to smog, Paul said.

That will also improve local air quality because a key source of pollution here is not local: Coal-fired power plants along the Ohio River produce emissions that travel with the weather, Paul said.

Nationally, air quality is on track to improve, although the political situation in Washington, D.C., remains unpredictable and federal standards could change, Paul said.

Federal rules awaiting implementation such as vehicle emissions standards and cleaner fuels will likely push Ohio into meeting the standards, Griesmer said.

Paul believes the gasoline sulfur reduction is likely to happen under the Obama administration, if it’s not subsequently overturned should the president fail to be elected to a second term. Paul added that it could be imposed later this year.

If the area were found to be exceeding standards by the U.S. EPA, new industries that emit large amounts of pollutants would have to buy offsets from existing local industries, which would lower emissions from those companies, Paul said. Advanced manufacturers with very low emissions would not be affected.

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