8 counties might see pollution restrictions eased
Published: January 23, 2007
Milwaukee (AP) – As air quality continues to improve in eastern Wisconsin,
businesses there might be seeing lighter environmental restrictions.
The state will ask the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reclassify eight
counties as compliant with federal standards for ozone pollution levels, Gov.
Jim Doyle announced Sunday.
If the request is approved, perhaps this year or in early 2008, the new designation
would hold companies that expand in the region to less stringent pollution controls.
"We believe this will provide businesses with considerably more flexibility,
and it will really help the economic growth of the area," Doyle said.
The counties included in the state request are Kenosha, Kewaunee, Manitowoc,
Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Washington and Waukesha.
Door and Sheboygan counties may be included in a future EPA request, Doyle
said, noting that ozone levels there are down but not yet below the federal
Allen Shea, the top air regulator with the state Department of Natural Resources,
said local companies have long blamed tough controls for inhibiting their growth.
"I can’t tell you on how many occasions people in high levels of companies,
or folks in operational levels, have told me that they simply didn’t consider
certain expansions because of this issue," Shea said.
Environmentalists counter that the state must maintain tough standards to reduce
emissions of pollutants that cause ozone, or smog.
Bruce Nilles, an attorney with the Sierra Club, acknowledges that the state
has made significant progress in reducing air pollution in the past 35 years.
"But the important question is whether the air is safe to breathe,"
Doyle said the state will continue to comply with federal mandates that preserve
air quality, including reformulated-gas requirements and vehicle inspections
in southeast Wisconsin.
The threshold for federal compliance with ozone standards is a three-year average
of 85 parts per billion. According to the EPA, ozone levels in eastern Wisconsin
were 83 parts per billion from 2004 to 2006, down from an average of 101 parts
per billion from 2001 to 2003.
Nilles noted that an EPA panel recommended in October that the current standard
"needs to be substantially reduced to protect human health."
Ozone can irritate the lungs and cause breathing difficulty, particularly for
children and people with respiratory troubles.