Originally created 02/15/99

Macon could lose highway funds after air quality violations

MACON -- After failing to meet federal air quality standards for the past two years, Macon's federal highway funds are in danger -- much like its larger neighbor to the north.

Atlanta already has a highway-building moratorium in place after the 13-county metropolitan area violated standards set forth in the federal Clean Air Act.

Macon has been in violation since the state Environmental Protection Division began monitoring air quality in 1997.

"We can take the hard-nosed stance that it ain't our fault," said Bibb County Commission chairman Larry Justice, who is also the chairman of the Macon Area Transportation Study.

"That's not going to solve the problem. We're going to have to start working with the EPD," he said. "We need to try to get in there and be proactive to see what can be done ... but nobody has much knowledge about what this is all about -- even about how Macon has been out of compliance."

The bad air in Macon could have another result if the General Assembly approves Gov. Roy Barnes' transportation plan.

The proposal calls for a transportation authority that would supersede the authority of local and county governments in areas of transportation planning.

The plan is aimed at the Atlanta area, but would also oversee areas such as Macon, Augusta or Savannah if those cities fell out of clean air compliance. Only Macon, Augusta and Atlanta are currently out of compliance, according to the EPD.

Macon was out of compliance for 12 days in 1997 and 18 days last year for ozone, said the EPD, which tests during the summer's peak ozone-producing months.

Only three months were measured in 1997, however. Ron Methier, chief of the EPD's air protection branch, said the noncompliance days probably would have numbered higher.

The EPD expects to be able to determine how much ozone was created by motor vehicles and how much by area industry, which includes three power plants.

If the city is out of compliance again next year, any road-building projects must be part of an overall pollution-reducing plan before qualifying for federal funds.

"We are giving (Macon) a very strong message," said Mr. Methier. "Macon is going to be non-attainment ... all indications are that, even with a very clean summer, Macon will not meet the federal clean-air standards."

Any plan to improve Macon's air should include tighter controls on the area's power plants, and not consumers, said members of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, an environmental lobbyist group.

"The city of Macon needs to be pressuring Gov. Barnes and the Georgia congressional delegation to (end the power-plant exemption)," said USPIRG's Georgia energy associate Jennifer Giegerich.


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