EPA Wants Crittenden County Off ‘Dirty Air’ List, Governor Says Will Help Job Efforts

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday proposed to approve Arkansas’ request to designate Crittenden County as attaining the federal 2008 ozone standard, a move that Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) and other officials said will boost the state’s economic development in eastern Arkansas.

The proposed “attainment” designation comes after a letter last month from Hutchinson requesting the EPA to remove the eastern Arkansas county from the federal “dirty air” nonattainment list, a designation that goes back to the Huckabee administration’s recruitment of a Toyota superproject.

Crittenden County lies within the tri-state greater Memphis area, and had been included in the area’s designation of nonattainment for the standard. The Memphis area as a whole has also been redesignated as attaining the standard.

“Arkansas has shown that Crittenden County’s air quality has improved and ozone levels are within the Clean Air Act’s protective levels,” said EPA Regional Administrator Ron Curry. “This is good news for everyone’s health, especially children, the elderly, and those with breathing problems.”

The federal Clean Air Act sets standards for ozone that protect people’s health and the environment. Under the standard set in 2008, the greater Memphis area in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri was classified as a marginal nonattainment area. Since then, Arkansas has met all requirements of the Clean Air Act to bring Crittenden County into attainment through reductions in vehicle and point-source emissions, and has shown how the area can maintain the improvements in air quality.

Ground-level ozone can trigger many health problems, especially for children, the elderly, and people with breathing problems such as asthma, and can also harm sensitive vegetation and ecosystems. Ozone is created by reactions between chemicals emitted from sources such as vehicle exhaust and industrial facilities in the presence of sunlight.

EPA’s proposal will be published in the Federal Registration seven to 10 days after signature. After publication, the proposal will be open for public comment for 30 days.

In a recent interview, ADEQ director Becky Keogh said her staff has been working to get Crittenden County back to attainment status more than a year after federal regulators reclassified the area as “nonattainment” in 2012 after the EPA changed federal ozone rules in 2012.

To support the ADEQ, Gov. Asa Hutchinson submitted a formal request to Curry on behalf of the State of Arkansas and ADEQ noting in his letter that “ozone monitoring data for the period of 2012 through 2014 show that Crittenden County has attained and continues to attain the 2008 eight-hour ozone” standard of 75 parts per billion under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).

Along with the letter to Curry, the state submitted a Maintenance Plan that outlines measures to keep the area in compliance with the standard for a minimum of 10 years. ADEQ held a public hearing in West Memphis on Nov. 5, 2015, on the proposed removal of the nonattainment designation for ozone compliance under federal air quality standards which has applied to Crittenden County since 2012. The department didn’t receive any comments opposing the proposal.

In his letter, Hutchinson said a designation to attainment would be of key interest to developers and transportation planners not only in Crittenden County, but across the Delta and the rest of Arkansas.

“Once the request is approved by EPA, Arkansas will be in full attainment of all criteria pollutant standards for the entire state,” the governor said. “An attainment designation will not only demonstrate that Arkansas’ air quality has continued to improve over the last several years, it will also clear the way in making Arkansas more competitive in attracting business opportunities.”