Potential Economic Impacts

Q: What would happen if the Environmental Protection Agency designated the Metro-Charlotte area as “serious”?

A: Industries would face additional restrictions and limitations under those circumstances. Industries currently have to get special federal permits if they emit more than 100 tons of certain pollutants per year. If we’re in the serious category, the threshold for having to get one of those permits drops down to 50 tons. And those permits are expensive. It would also require industries to install more emission-control equipment. For more information on the rules, visit http://daq.state.nc.us/rules/rules/. The N.C. Division of Air Quality has notified about 200 facilities in the seven-county region that could be affected if that happens. A total of 18 are in Rowan County and 19 are in Cabarrus. The EPA estimates that it generally costs $3,000 - $5,000 per ton to control emissions though those costs can vary widely. For more information on control techniques, visit http://www.epa.gov/air/ozonepollution/SIPToolkit/ctgs.html.

Q: How does a “serious” designation affect economic development?

A: If industries that are already here want to undergo a major expansion or a major new industry wants to come in, they are subject to a new set of requirements. These include installing the most stringent emissions control equipment available regardless of cost -- plus they have to offset their emissions increase. They can offset the emissions increase by shutting something down or adding more pollution-control equipment to other processes or paying for somebody else’s pollution-control measures. That makes it hard to recruit new industry to the area or for existing industries to expand significantly.

Q: What are the other impacts of the “serious” category?

A: Gas stations may have to install equipment for collecting gasoline vapors while refueling motor vehicles. That’s expensive because there is underground piping involved. It will also cost citizens more money to get repairs if they fail vehicle inspections. Now if you spend $200 on repairs and still fail, you can get a one-year waiver from additional repairs. If we are in the “serious” category, the minimum expenditure bumps up to about $500.

Q: How does it affect our ability to get federal funds for highways?

A: Bumping up to “serious” won’t affect highways right away. But transportation planning has other problems related to the air quality standards. When the state puts together the State Implementation Plan, (SIP), the N.C. Division of Air Quality asks the transportation officials to project their highway needs in the future. They have to ensure that emissions will not contribute to worsening air quality. If growth exceeds their expectations, they find it difficult to meet the budget set up by the SIP. If a region is out of compliance, it stands to delay or lose funding the federal government pays for highway construction and repair.



EDITOR'S NOTE: This was excerpted from a Q&A with Donnie Redmond, then  planning section chief of the N.C. Department of Environment & Natural Resources Division of Air Quality.