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Saturday, January 9, 2010

"Non-attainment": What It Really Means for Huntsville

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed lowering the ground-level ozone standard from the current .075 ppm (parts per million) to .070 ppm or even .065 ppm. Areas that don't meet these new standards will be designated as "non-attainment" areas. Madison and Morgan counties are projected to not meet these new standards, with 3-year averages (2006-2008) of .078ppm and .076ppm respectively. Even with a record-low 2009 average of .066ppm for Madison County, the 3-year average is still at .074ppm. These proposed levels are not final, however; the official EPA designations will be announced on March 12, 2011. 

If the proposed levels are approved, here are some possible consequences of non-attainment for Huntsville:
  • Higher energy costs. As the Times pointed out, while a TVA coal power plant near Florence might be 70 miles away, it still affects the air quality of the region. TVA might have to make significant and costly improvements to the plant, in turn raising energy costs for all of us.
  • Emissions testing for automobiles. 
  • Lower speed limits, especially on 565. The 70 mph speed limit we all enjoy (and break) all the way to downtown will probably be lowered to the 55-60 mph limit seen on most urban interstates.
  • Transportation conformity plans for new roads. While these are costly and time consuming, they would ensure that a new road project would not have a negative impact on the region's air quality. In other words, a new road that increases congestion won't get federal/state funding. (Adios, Patriot Parkway.) This will hopefully put a greater emphasis on better transit and pedestrian/bike access on congested corridors.
  • Better land-use plans. While the Times makes it sound like "growth" will come to a standstill once we reach non-attainment, that is not true. Unhealthy growth (sprawl) will continue to happen, but at a slower pace. Expect smarter growth practices throughout Madison County, with more land preserved for greenspace and better, more walkable mixed-use designs for neighborhoods.


Rail Claimore said...

Lower speed limits don't seem like a high probability. Other non-attainment areas such as Dallas, Houston, and Detroit still maintain 65 or 70mph limits on their interstates. Speed limits in urban areas are more affected by state law and attitudes than anything else.

Emissions testing might go through if we fall into non-attainment, but for a metropolitan area of our size that barely falls into non-attainment, I suspect that the change we'll see first and foremost is at the gas pump: cleaner-burning fuel. That should be enough to put us back in the attainment category.

Anonymous said...

I know some (if not all) of the Honda Civics at the local dealership are Ultra-Low Emission Vehicles (ULEVs). Having stricter regulations on car emissions seems simple enough, with a minimal impact on the local economy. Lowering the speed on 565 wouldn't be a bad idea either.

Pete said...

What some of you apparently don't realize is that the drop in residential growth and new businesses - already a reality in most of Madison county - will reach new lows with the non-attainment designation - resulting in attainment! Less government interference is always the preferred over more regulation, particularly of the kind that is not attainable! The western world will continue to pay the price for the third worlds' unwillingness and inability to control their growth and pollution.