Improved air quality leads Spalding officials to seek attainment area designation

The Spalding County Board of Commissioners has approved a contract with Joe Tanner & Associates to craft a proposal seeking to remove Spalding County from the list of Georgia counties designated as non-attainment areas, indicating the county air quality meets state and federal standards regarding certain forms of air pollution.

The total cost of the contract is $25,000 for the two-phase process, with $5,000 for the first phase, removal from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD).  If approved on the state level, the cost of seeking removal from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) list is $20,000.

Joe Tanner & Associates Executive Vice President Harold Reheis said similar work was successfully undertaken in 2012, which resulted in Spalding County being named an attainment area for ozone.

“There are standards for several main pollutants that the federal Environmental Protection Agency requires all states to meet its standard nationwide,” Reheis said. “Ozone and fine particulate matter, also known as PM 2.5, are among them. Those are the ones most predominately found in Georgia. We meet the other standards.”

Counties found to have excessive quantities of ozone and PM 2.5 in the air are classified as non-attainment areas. If a county’s officials establish that the air meets state and federal guidelines, they are then classified as attainment areas.

While the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) and EPA in 2012 deemed Spalding County an attainment area with regard to ozone, the air quality currently has the county designated a PM 2.5 non-attainment area.

According to Reheis, Spalding County, along with 26 other Georgia counties, has had this PM 2.5 designation since Dec. 17, 2004.

Reheis described PM2.5 as a mixture of microscopic solids and liquid droplets suspended in air, and said they can be emitted directly by smoke from any and all types of fire or may be formed in the atmosphere from the emissions of power plants, industries and vehicles.

“The PM 2.5 problem tends to be in metropolitan areas, as does ozone,” he said, adding that the EPD has successively tightened the restrictions over the years. “Last year, the EPA tightened up the PM 2.5 standards again. When they do that, states are given one year to bring evidence to the EPA registering which parts of the state have a problem. This means the state now has another chance to re-designate the non-attainment areas.”

This process entails state EPD officials to nominate specific counties to stay on or be removed from the non-attainment list.

“Being in non-attainment status is a deterrent to the recruitment of new industries, so it is good to have as few Georgia counties as possible on that list,” Reheis said in an email to Spalding County Manager William Wilson.

Reheis said his firm believes sufficient progress has been made that Spalding County may now be eligible for re-designation as an attainment area.

“We believe there has been enough progress made by the EPD. The EPD has imposed some strict new controls on electricity generating plants that use coal in Georgia. A lot of those controls kicked in in 2009 and 2010,” he said. “We believe that, for example, sulfur dioxide, which is a national priority air pollutant which contributes significantly to the PM 2.5 in Georgia, has been significantly reduced. So, if you reduce the sulfur dioxide emissions of the coal powered power plants in Georgia, you reduce the PM 2.5. From 2007 to 2010, Georgia Power’s sulfur dioxide emissions went down by two-thirds – a tremendous reduction. We believe that benefits communities like Spalding County because there’s less PM 2.5 to float over the area.”

In addition to tightened restrictions on the electricity producing industry, he said further strides to improve air quality have been made on mobile sources, such as automobiles.

“The kinds of programs the EPD has put into place over the last decade have had a significant impact on reducing PM 2.5,” Reheis said. “We believe we can show that Spalding County is meeting the requirements, even to the new tightened standards on PM 2.5.”

These air quality improvements have not only the obvious effect of improving health, but also bring an economic benefit, as well.

“When businesses and industry are looking for a place to locate, they prefer an attainment area, as sometimes the costs of non-attainment are cost-prohibitive. It will make Spalding County more attractive to business and industry, thus bringing more jobs to the area,” Reheis said. “Any business or industry that is going to emit pollutants into the air that are covered by the federal Clean Air Act or the Georgia Air Quality Control Act, they are required to have certain controls on their emission stacks, in essence, filters. A certain amount is necessary, but if you’re in a non-attainment area, there are even more restrictions. Basically, there’s a stigma attached to being designated a non-attainment district. They don’t mind putting in controls, but they don’t want to go to extremes.”

He said a report will be forwarded to Spalding County officials, which will then be forwarded to the EPD. EPD officials must then submit its recommendations to the EPA by Dec. 13. A final federal attainment area determination will be made by Dec. 12, 2014. Ω

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