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County exploring legal avenues to overturn EPA air-quality decision

DESOTO COUNTY — DeSoto County has asked a law firm to explore the county’s chances of overturning a federal decision that groups it with Memphis and Crittenden County, Ark., on ozone levels.

The board approved a retainer — up to $3,000 — for the law firm to do some “exploratory” study of the county’s case for reversal of the Environmental Protection Agency decision.

“We haven’t decided yet to pursue a lawsuit,” Supervisor Mark Gardner told the Commercial Appeal. “We’ll also be meeting further with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. There’ll be a formal appeal through the governor’s office.”

A lawsuit may arise if the state process isn’t successful, he said.

“We’re going to fight this decision — in the most-effective way,” Gardner said.

The EPA has included parts of DeSoto with Memphis, which has ozone emissions above allowable limits set by federal regulation. It includes urban areas of DeSoto County and Crittenden County, Ark., in the Memphis ozone “non-attainment” area.

DeSoto County officials fear the designation would hinder development by forcing industrial prospects to comply with more stringent requirements.

Ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog, triggers asthma attacks, causes lung damage and increases the risk of dying from lung disease.

DeSoto and state officials contend EPA made an unfair decision based on faulty science. Gardner and county administrator Michael Garriga were part of a team with state air-quality officials that met in February with EPA to make the county’s case.

The EPA on May 1 ruled against DeSoto County.

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