RACINE — Racine County could be designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as a Wisconsin community that is not attaining federal air quality standards.
The Clean Air Act requires the agency to set air quality standards for pollutants that are considered harmful to public health and the environment, according to the EPA. The agency changed the standard for ozone — one of the six pollutants — in 2015 to 70 parts per billion, down from the previous 2008 standard of 75 parts per billion. Industrial facilities, electric utilities and motor vehicle exhaust are among major sources of ozone, the EPA states. The agency proposed last month that Racine County is not attaining the new standard.
The EPA designates an area as nonattaining if certified monitoring data show a violation of the new standard, according to a Dec. 20 letter from the EPA to Gov. Scott Walker. The agency could also determine the area is contributing to a violation in a nearby location.
Walker recommended in 2016 that all Wisconsin counties be considered as attaining the standard.
The county could be designated along with Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington and Waukesha counties, according to the letter.
EPA records state that Racine County, along with Washington and Waukesha counties, contribute to the ozone concentrations in violation of the standard in communities with violating monitors.
The EPA plans to make its final designations this spring, the December letter states.
Wisconsin would need a plan
Racine County officials directed inquiries to the Department of Natural Resources.
The state has until the end of February to respond, DNR spokesman Jim Dick said in an email.
“The state will continue to work with EPA to ensure any final designations in the state fully reflect what is scientifically known about ozone formation and transport in the region,” he said.
States with nonattaining areas for a pollutant must develop a plan to reduce emissions, according to the EPA. Programs at state and federal levels can help decrease ozone-forming pollution from industrial and transportation sources, the agency stated.
“Because these emissions can travel long distances and affect air quality in neighboring communities and states downwind, these programs protect health and help areas across the country achieve and make progress toward meeting air quality standards,” the email states.
Dick said it’s too early to speculate how the state might respond if Racine County or any other area is designated as not meeting the standard. Generally, areas that don’t meet the standard have stricter permitting requirements for facilities that emit ozone-forming pollutants, he said.
“This includes the requirement to control emissions to certain levels without considering the cost of such controls,” he stated. “Large, permitted projects in nonattainment areas may also need to ‘offset’ their emissions of these pollutants when they want to build or expand.”
Local chamber of commerce officials were shy to comment on the EPA letter. Officials at Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce, the largest local chamber in the county, declined to comment.
The Union Grove Chamber of Commerce directed inquiries about the potential designation to Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, which did not respond to a request for comment as of Monday evening. In a statement, however, the chamber’s general counsel and director of environmental and energy policy, Lucas Vebber, described the move as a “failed regulatory agenda” attacking Wisconsin businesses.
“Business growth in east and southeast Wisconsin will be greatly impacted by this decision,” he stated. “We need our federal representatives to step up and fight back against this Zombie Obama-EPA regulatory agenda and restore common sense to air permitting.”