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Published January 08 2010

EPA proposal for pollution rules could affect Becker, other regional counties

Four counties in North Dakota and 12 counties in Minnesota, including Becker, could be affected by stricter pollution rules proposed this week by the Obama administration.

The new Environmental Protection Agency proposal could more than double the number of counties across the country that are violating clean air standards.

For the first time, counties in a number of states, including North Dakota and Minnesota, might be forced to find ways to clamp down on smog-forming emission from industry and automobiles, according to The Associated Press.

The proposal presents a range for the allowable concentration of ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog, from 60 parts to 70 parts per billion, down from 75 parts per billion, The AP said.

Becker County has 62 parts per billion, according to EPA statistics provided by The AP.

Steve Skoog, who heads Becker County’s environmental services department, was unfamiliar with the new EPA proposal and said he couldn’t comment.

He referred questions to the Detroit Lakes office of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The agency said Dan Olson, its spokesman, was out of the office and unavailable for comment.

Cass County registered 58 parts per billion and doesn’t violate the proposed range, according to the information from the EPA.

Cass has “very clean air” and is in compliance with existing regulations, said Miles Schacher, an environmental health practitioner with the city of Fargo.

There has been pressure from states such as California, where air pollution is a big problem, to “level the (regulatory) playing field,” he said.

The new EPA proposal appears to be a response to that, he said.

“In California, we’ve set pretty tough air pollutions standards for a long time now and this (the EPA proposal) brings the rest of the country to the same level,” Leo Kay, spokesman for the California Air Resources Control Board, told The AP.

Air quality in counties across North Dakota varies only slightly, said Tom Bachman, a state Health Department environmental engineer.

He said the federal proposal could be revised.

The four North Dakota counties that could be affected are Billings, McKenzie, Mercer and Oliver.

According to The AP:

EPA plans to select a specific figure within that 60 parts to 70 parts per billion range by August. Counties and states then will have up to 20 years to meet the new limits, depending on how severely they are out of compliance. They will have to submit plans for meeting the new limits by the end of 2013 or early 2014.

EPA estimates meeting the new requirements will cost industry and motorists from $19 billion to $90 billion a year by 2020.

Environmentalists endorsed the EPA proposal, while some industries expressed their opposition.

More than 300 counties – mainly in southern California, the Northeast and the Gulf Coast – already violate the current, looser requirements adopted two years by the Bush administration.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Jonathan Knutson at (701) 241-5530