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EPA targets 22 states that don’t meet particulate matter rules

Officials in 22 states have been warned by the EPA some of their counties are not in compliance with federal rules regarding particulate matter pollution.

State and local governments have three years to develop plans to reduce the pollutants in the “nonattainment” areas. Federal officials have previously said failure to meet the standards could lead to a number of consequences, including loss of highway funds.

The announcement, released June 29 by the Environmental Protection Agency, is part of the agency’s enforcement of the nation’s first fine particle air quality standard, called PM2.5. The standard covers microscopic particles in the air produced by truck and other diesel engines, as well as power plants, factories, cars and other fuel-burning sources.

“Fine-particle pollution represents one of the most significant barriers to clean air facing our nation today,” EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt said in a statement. “These new particulate health standards, coupled with our efforts to reduce power plant and diesel emissions, are important steps toward meeting our nation’s commitment to clean, healthy air.”

Areas that do not meet the standards fall mostly in the eastern and western parts of the United States, usually around urban centers. For example, areas around New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles are not in compliance, while all of EPA region 6, which includes Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, is in compliance. In Illinois, the rural center of the state is in compliance, while the areas near Chicago and across the river from St. Louis are not.

EPA officials said in a statement that diesel engine regulations and new low-sulfur fuel formulas that go into effect in 2007 would help reduce the soot problem. Other, new efforts are targeting emissions by off-road diesel equipment.

However, the EPA has also developed a Voluntary Diesel Retrofit Program designed to encourage improvements to current diesel engines that would reduce the amount of soot they produce. The effort is primarily aimed at fleet operators and air quality planners in state and local governments.

The agency has also awarded grants to two states to develop diesel-emission-reduction programs. Oregon — all of which is in compliance — will receive a $100,000 grant to test ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel in off-road equipment and heavy-duty highway vehicles. Chattanooga, TN, will receive a $100,000 grant to test exhaust pollution-reduction equipment on buses.

But not all of the action has been federal. Several states have already taken actions to curb both particulate matter and other pollutants, such as ozone.

New York has some of the strictest truck idling regulations in the nation. And New Jersey recently announced it would begin enforcement of a three-minute idling rule. Ten counties in New Jersey do not meet the regulations, while five in New York are out of compliance.

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen signed legislation June 8 giving the Tennessee Air Board power to require counties to conduct vehicle exhaust inspections by mid-2005. The inspections would be required before vehicle owners could renew vehicle registrations. Tennessee has three counties that fail to comply with the rules, all in the eastern section along the Appalachian Mountains.

In addition, Tennessee’s Air Pollution Control Board recommended earlier this year that the state reduce the maximum speed for semis to 55 mph, down from 70 mph, to reduce pollution. The recommendation also suggested banning truck drivers from idling engines for long periods and requiring companies with government contracts to use clean-engine technology and fuel additives for heavy-duty equipment.

— by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor 
Mark Reddig can be reached at mark_reddig@landlinemag.com.