Local News

32 N.C. Counties Make EPA's Bad Air List

Posted April 15, 2004 5:20 a.m. EDT

— The Environmental Protection Agency told officials in North Carolina and 30 other states Thursday to develop new pollution controls because the air in some of their counties do not meet air quality standards.

In North Carolina, all or part of 32 of the state's 100 counties do not meet the federal health standard for smog-causing ozone. Officials have three years to develop plans to come into compliance.

With measures that officials hope will have a positive effect already being put in place, Division of Air Quality director Keith Overcash said Tuesday that state residents may see little immediate impact from the announcement.

The EPA has suggested a number of alternatives to get off the bad air list, but Raleigh is already taking action. The city purchased 20 Honda GXs, which officials said put out one-fifth the pollution of an average car.

David Ronco, of Wake Technical Community College, hopes the new report will put more of the vehicles on the road or at least change people's habits.

"It creates awareness. Maybe, people will think about carpooling and ride-sharing," he said.

Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said the city can take steps to be more environmentally friendly.

"Probably the most important thing an individual can do other than buying a hybrid car is to be sure your yard and house has plenty of trees around it," he said. "That prevents the formation of ozone and also absorbs carbon monoxide."

Most of the failing counties are in the state's metropolitan areas, but two North Carolina counties that made the list -- Nash and Edgecombe -- blame the Triangle.

Edgecombe County Commissioner Charlie Harrell and others argue winds blow dirty air in from places like Raleigh. They said their counties just do not have the sources for that kind of pollution and that affects the area's economy.

"You're going to take an economically depressed area and make it even harder to recruit jobs to that area. It's just frustrating," he said.

Nash and Edgecombe county leaders have until June 2009 to get their acts together. Both counties plan to look into possible legal action to get off the pollution list.

If North Carolina's most polluted areas -- including Charlotte, the Triangle and the Triad -- cannot meet the clean-air standards, they eventually could face the loss of federal funds on which they depend for crucial highway projects.

David Farren, lead attorney for the Chapel Hill office of the Southern Environmental Law Center, said he wonders how long the state's bad air areas will be able to stay in compliance.

"Being able to model attainment on paper by 2007 does not really address the longer-term, 20-year perspective," he said Tuesday.

Over the last 30 years, Farren noted, increases in the number of North Carolina drivers and the miles they travel have more than offset pollution reductions from lower-emission cars and fuels. In the future, he said, the state will have to find ways to reduce the number of miles North Carolinians drive.