Columbia County will be re-considered for inclusion on the list of Georgia counties that could face non-attainment status under the federal Clean Air Act, according to state regulators.
"I would expect, at the very least, there will be some debate over Columbia County," said Jeff Carter, the planning and support program manager in the Georgia Environmental Protection Division's Air Protection Branch.
Mr. Carter, speaking at the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce building, briefed local government and industry leaders Wednesday about changes in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules that govern how air pollution and federal compliance are calculated.
The primary concern is ozone - an unhealthy mix of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds spawned by car exhaust and industrial emissions. Excessive levels cause or aggravate respiratory and health problems.
Ozone once was measured on a standard in which hourly levels could not exceed 0.120 parts per million. EPA's proposed new standard uses eight-hour averages that cannot exceed 0.085 parts per million.
Augusta and other cities, including Macon and Columbus, complied with the old standard but likely will flunk the new standard, according to officials.
Cities declared non-attainment zones would join Atlanta and other metro areas that face vehicle emissions requirements, restrictions on industry and reduced eligibility for transportation dollars, under the new rules.
Last year, Gov. Roy Barnes sent EPA a list of Georgia counties for inclusion on a potential list of non-attainment areas. Although the governor included Richmond County, Columbia County was omitted.
Mr. Carter said EPA regulators have questioned that omission from the listbecause of the density of Columbia County's population and its high percentage of residents who commute to Richmond or other counties for employment.
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