Originally created 12/02/99

Committee passes clean air proposal



LAKE LANIER ISLANDS, Ga. -- The Georgia Board of Natural Resources on Wednesday approved an air-pollution-reduction plan that board members have been assured will pass muster with federal officials.

The unanimous vote came 2 1/2 months after the board adopted a previous version that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warned wasn't tough enough to bring the Atlanta region into compliance with federal clean-air standards by 2003.

But on Wednesday, EPA Administrator Carol Browner announced in Washington that the agency is giving the revised plan conditional approval, subject to the state following through with its provisions.

"We have a more aggressive (plan)," board Chairman Thomas Wheeler said after the vote.

At stake is the 13-county metro-Atlanta area's attempt to get out from under sanctions imposed by the EPA, which has stripped the region of federal highway aid until it submits an acceptable plan to clean up its dirty air. During the summer months, metro-Atlanta's air frequently exceeds the limits for ground-level ozone, a key component of unhealthy smog.

The new plan, which still must be put in final form for the board's consideration next month, would require the sale of low-sulfur gasoline in a 45-county area surrounding the Georgia capital, from Clarke and Oconee in Northeast Georgia to Chattooga and Troup on the state's western border.

It also would expand Georgia's vehicle-emissions inspection law, which now requires tests every two years inside the 13-county metro area, to require annual screenings in 19 counties. The six additional outlying counties that would come under the inspection law are Bartow, Carroll, Hall, Newton, Spalding and Walton.

But at the same time, the new plan backs away from the earlier proposal's intent to impose stricter emissions controls on industrial pollution in all 45 counties covered by the low-sulfur gasoline requirement. Under the new plan, only the 19 counties included in the vehicle inspections mandate would be subject to stricter industrial controls.

Political and business leaders in the 26 counties now exempted from the proposed crackdown on industrial pollution had complained vehemently that businesses in their areas weren't contributing enough to Atlanta's dirty air to warrant their inclusion in the plan.

Now, that argument has shifted to the six outlying counties that would be subject to both vehicle emissions inspections and stricter industrial controls.

On Wednesday, John Krieger, chairman of Walton County Commission, asked the board to order the installation of air quality monitors in Walton and Clarke counties instead of relying on scientific modeling of wind patterns.

"I'm concerned about the acquisition of data through modeling," he said. "We'd like the (Department of Natural Resources) to recommend monitoring and get better information."

The board didn't act on his request at Wednesday's meeting.

Among the issues still to be worked out as the state Environmental Protection Division drafts the plan's final version are an open-burning ban and emissions controls on coal-fired electric generating plants.

The burning ban would extend from May through September in all 45 counties covered by the low-sulfur gasoline requirement, which has prompted concerns from farmers and forestry officials who conduct controlled burns.

The new plan also calls for stricter emissions controls on five electric plants run by Georgia Power Co. north and west of Atlanta than would have been mandated under the previous proposal. But the specific nature and extent of those additional controls haven't been specified.

Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424.