DESOTO COUNTY — Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) yesterday again expressed his serious misgivings with an Environmental Protection Agency decision to place parts of DeSoto County under new air quality rules, cautioning that the designation could cast a pall on job creation.
At a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing to review the EPA’s FY2013 budget requests, Cochran addressed the EPA’s April 30 decision to include parts of north DeSoto County within the nonattainment designation for the Memphis metropolitan area. The decision, which is being appealed by DeSoto County, means the EPA believes the region is not meeting 2008 ground-level ozone standards set in the Clean Air Act.
“I hope you can help ensure that fairness is the result of this decision rather than arbitrary rulemaking without a basis in fact,” Cochran said in addressing the issue with EPA administrator Lisa Jackson. “The obvious intent of the rules and the laws should be fairly applied to this area that is a very popular area for job creation and business activity, and that is not a very serious polluter, in and of itself.”
According to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, ozone concentrations in DeSoto County have dropped since 2004 when the EPA excluded the county from the Memphis non-attainment area because it did not significantly contribute to ozone levels.
“This declaration means you can’t build or do anything in terms of urban growth without jumping through new hoops and abiding by new rules beyond the control of local officials, zoning authorities or the public,” said Cochran in criticizing the EPA’s latest assessment of DeSoto County. “I just hope that the highest authorities in the EPA can give their attention to this to see just what are the options for continued growth in that area.”
Jackson said that DeSoto County inclusion in the nonattainment designation was based on data from North Mississippi “as part of the municipal area around Memphis,” and that region would now have to work with the Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization to meet the EPA’s clean air standards.
“The nonattainment designation is not a no-growth designation,” Jackson said. “It has to do with the commutation patterns and growth in terms of primarily automobiles and others within the Memphis urban boundary.”
Jackson went on to add “as cars become cleaner and more efficient, we do foresee a time when the issue will, through other federal rules, become less of a concern.”
The EPA has indicated that it is currently working on updating ground-level ozone standards, and expects to offer revisions next year.
Cochran, along with Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Congressman Alan Nunnelee (-Miss.), have been concerned since the EPA announced in December 2011 its intent to include parts of DeSoto County with Memphis in an area of nonattainment. The three lawmakers met with Jackson in February to express their opposition to the plan.