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Archive for Monday, April 12, 2004

K.C. metro faces stricter air quality standards

East of Douglas County, residents, businesses must curb ozone output

April 12, 2004

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— New clean air standards taking effect this week are expected to soon put the Kansas City area in violation of federal ozone levels, possibly leaving residents with new rules and higher gasoline taxes, government officials said.

The National Ambient Air Quality Standards go into effect Thursday. The two-state Kansas City-metro area could officially exceed ozone standards this summer, the height of the ozone season, to trigger the new regulations.

The Environmental Protection Agency said the standards would affect eight counties -- Wyandotte, Johnson, Miami and Linn in Kansas, and Jackson, Clay, Platte and Cass in Missouri.

Residents might face vehicle emissions inspections and other regulations to protect the environment, while plants and businesses will have to search for ways to decrease air pollution.

Some groups have been meeting to discuss ways to clean the air and educate the public. The groups, appointed by the tax-funded Mid-America Regional Council, include leaders from government, business, health care and environmental organizations.

They hope to have a plan ready for the EPA this summer.

"Everyone is concerned about what the next step will be," said Pete Levi, president of the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

Kansas City appears to be lagging behind other cities in putting together such a plan.

The region still has not finished developing a computer model that would determine the sources of ozone, and that is necessary to finish the plan, said Terry Satterlee, an environmental attorney.

Two years ago, when the EPA offered communities that would not meet the new standards a chance to come up with early remedies, 30 areas accepted. In return, the EPA agreed to postpone declaring those areas in violation.

Kansas City passed up the chance because of a lack of support at the time, said James Joerke, air quality program director of the Mid-America Regional Council.

However, air in Kansas City has gotten better in recent years, as it has across the country, since the EPA first announced stricter standards in 1997 to protect public health.

Although it is too early to know what regulations could go into place in Kansas City, some measures under discussion are vehicle emissions inspections, carpooling lanes, a 2-cent gas tax and restrictions on lawn equipment use.

Also, industrial facilities and coal-generated power plants would have to buy new equipment to reduce the level of emissions.

Kansas City has yet to do a cost estimate, but officials in Minneapolis expect industry and business there to spend between $189 million and $266 million to purchase and install pollution-cleaning equipment.

Ozone occurs when volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides are released into the atmosphere from automobiles, factories and coal-fired power plants. Those chemicals react to heat and sunlight, creating ozone.

Ozone, while made up solely of oxygen atoms, is an irritant and a health hazard.

Officials suspect vehicles are the leading cause for ozone in Kansas City.

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