May 05 2012
Memphis Commercial Appeal
By Henry Bailey, Commercial Appeal
Mississippi and DeSoto County officials said Friday they would appeal a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to keep parts of the county grouped with Memphis and Crittenden County, Ark., on an air-quality "non-attainment" list for ozone.
"This irresponsible decision defies logic and makes it clear that EPA bureaucrats in Washington ignored our information based on the scientific data presented by DeSoto County and the state," Gov. Phil Bryant said.
The outcry bounced back to Washington, where U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, both R-Miss., in addition to fellow Republican U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo, also blasted the EPA.
Nunnelee hit the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama for pursuing "an agenda that kills jobs and strangles economic growth," while Wicker called the EPA action "a wet blanket on job creation for DeSoto County" that will "at the same time do absolutely nothing to improve the environment or air quality."
Local officials fear the ozone non-attainment status could impair industrial recruitment by requiring prospective firms to install enhanced emission controls and by adding regulatory burdens to transportation projects in the growing county.
The EPA on Tuesday listed northern DeSoto County in its final designations for areas that do not meet the Ozone Standard for National Ambient Air Quality Standards under the federal Clean Air Act, as well as other counties linked to the Memphis metropolitan area: Shelby and Crittenden in East Arkansas.
The action, not officially released to DeSoto and state officials, caught them by surprise. The EPA said that its decision would not be released until late May.
The EPA did not list DeSoto in the Memphis non-attainment area in 2004 because the county did not significantly contribute to ozone levels in the region. Since that time, ozone concentrations have dropped in DeSoto County, according to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality director Trudy Fisher and staff.
"The facts are that the air quality for DeSoto County is good and what's more it's improving," Bryant said. "The local officials of DeSoto County, along with local industry and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, have for several years undertaken voluntary measures to improve the air quality in the area. I have discussed appeal options with MDEQ, and we will leave no stone unturned in challenging this baseless decision."
DeSoto County Supervisor Mark Gardner, who was part of a team with state officials that met in February "to make the county's case" with EPA staff, said: "Obviously we're disappointed and we're going to examine the appellate process. We'll continue to fight because it's unfair and will certainly hurt our industrial development recruitment."
The EPA announced the listing in a December proposal and set a Feb. 29 deadline for public comment and concerns. The agency intended to include parts of DeSoto with Memphis and Crittenden, which have ozone emissions above allowable limits set by federal regulation.
Gardner joined MDEQ's Fisher and other DeSoto officials, including County Administrator Michael Garriga, Gina Tynan of the Planning Department and Jim Flanagan, chief of the DeSoto Economic Development Council, in presenting research before the EPA in mid-February.
The D.C. visit included an appeal to lawmakers for help, and later in February, Cochran, Wicker and Nunnellee met with EPA's Jackson to express their opposition to the proposal and argue that a non-attainment decision could hamper economic and community growth.
Flanagan said Friday, "It's still too early to determine any minimal impact on industrial development and transportation projects."