Air quality preventive measures will save money later

Published: Thursday, June 11, 2009 7:00 am By: Brian Brus

The Journal Record

The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber is trying to convince business operators that minor preventive measures in air quality now will save a lot of money later.

The city and the rest of the metropolitan area is almost certain to not be in compliance with federal mandates for clean air later this summer, said Mark Van Landingham, the chamber's vice president of government relations.

"We're trying to make the metropolitan area and its businesses more aware of where we're headed," Van Landingham said. "It can impact our ability to attract large employers, especially manufacturing operations that could require an air quality permit. And it will stifle the process of building streets, roads and infrastructure because of other regulatory steps.

"Consumers will be hurt because the increased cost to businesses ultimately will be passed on to them. And a number of small businesses may be required to purchase new operational equipment," he said.

To educate the public about what he described as a "near certainty," the chamber is sponsoring a business forum on clean air Wednesday at Oklahoma Christian University. Several experts on environment and federal compliance are scheduled to speak at the event.

Oklahoma cities consistently have met the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's standard that air must contain no more than 75 units of ozone, or smog, for every billion units of air in order to be considered healthy. But large cities like Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Lawton come close to the limit.

Association of Central Oklahoma Governments spokesman Jerry Church said ozone levels are routinely monitored at six locations in the region. Results have shown episodes of elevated ozone readings that occasionally exceeded the daily standard of the National Ambient Air Quality Standard, characterized by hot, sunny days; cloudless skies; light south, southeasterly or east winds; and high background levels of ozone and ozone precursors associated with an inbound air-mass.

To address the risk of falling into noncompliance, ACOG initiated its first area stakeholder meeting in late 2006. The invitation list included representatives from local and state governments, small and large businesses and industry, the nonprofit sector, community and environmental activists, citizens and the news media.

Projects cited in ACOG's ozone-reduction plan include the replacement of forced air heating systems with radiant heat equipment in selected fire stations, replacing older water chillers and gas furnaces with high-efficiency equipment, and installing so-called intelligent control heating and air-conditioning systems to reduce energy use.

A wide range of other measures applied on a voluntary basis include the Oklahoma City municipal government's public education efforts and encouragement of employees to reduce energy use; Great Plains Coca-Cola's retrofit of its vehicle fleet to use alternative fuels; the state Transportation Department's installation of energy-efficient street and signal lighting; and several agencies and companies agreeing to avoid lawn mowing on ozone alert days. Participants include Tinker Air Force Base, the United Parcel Service and the University of Oklahoma.

Church said, "Keep in mind these are voluntary efforts, which is why the list is still a little thin."

Local officials said many of the effects of non-attainment won't be immediately obvious, but they will be inevitable and costly. After the EPA's formal designation, the state will be required by 2013 to develop and submit a plan to compensate.

Van Landingham said changes in cities that already have gone through the process have included more costly gasoline specifically designed for the region's climate; more stringent and expensive control equipment for industry; automobile inspection and maintenance programs; and reduced highway speeds.

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