EPA refuses to change ruling on air quality rating

DESOTO COUNTY — The Environmental Protection Agency has rejected appeals from state officials over air quality listings.

According to The Commercial Appeal, the decision means the counties remain classified as “non-attainment” areas because of ozone levels. Officials say the designation makes it more difficult to attract industry.

The “non-attainment” counties in the Delta region are Shelby in Tennessee, Crittenden in Arkansas and part of DeSoto in Mississippi.

In East Tennessee, Anderson, Blount and Knox counties are listed.

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation commissioner Bob Martineau said the federal agency chose the “most burdensome of several options” in dealing with air pollution in the counties.

“It’s important to note that while EPA’s decision will have long-term negative economic impacts for Tennessee, this decision does nothing to improve air quality,” Martineau said.

Tennessee and Mississippi petitioned the EPA after the agency earlier this year classified the counties as non-attainment. The states cited data that showed improving local air quality, including a three-day monitoring period ending in 2011 during which all air quality monitors in Shelby County met federal ozone standards.

The Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce supported the appeal and Mark Herbison, vice president of economic development for the chamber. He noted that while Electrolux, Mitsubishi Electric and other large companies agree to move into the area in 2011, but interest has been weaker in 2012.

“Since being notified about the potential for being designated ‘non-attainment,’ we have seen our business inquiries significantly diminish…,” Herbison wrote.

Ozone can cause lasting damage to lungs. It is created when pollutants from car engines and industrial plants react in sunlight. Ozone levels have generally declined in recent years in the Memphis area. The unusually hot, dry weather last summer brought about episodes of increased pollution, including a “Code Purple” advisory for very unhealthful conditions.

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