COLUMBIA — More than half of South Carolina’s counties, including Richland and Lexington, are in danger of falling out of compliance with tougher federal smog standards that could make it harder for industries to expand in the Palmetto State, regulators say.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules, which could take effect in the next two years, are intended to clean up the air by reducing ground-level ozone, a lung irritant and a key ingredient in smog. People with asthma and other breathing disorders are particularly vulnerable to ozone pollution.
But in a letter last month to state lawmakers, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control said tighter ozone standards also would have economic consequences – unless the state takes action to clear up smoggy skies.
Industries could have to adopt the most effective pollution control equipment available, regardless of cost, DHEC director Catherine Templeton said in her letter to legislators. That could cost millions of extra dollars for industries that already have spent tens of millions instituting tougher controls for other types of air pollution.
Failing to comply with the clean air standards could impede counties’ economic development and business expansion, the letter said. Templeton’s letter said the state could lose federal transportation funds and road projects could be delayed if counties fall out of compliance.
In addition to Columbia, Greenville, Charleston, Florence and Aiken counties also could find themselves out of compliance with the tighter standards, according to DHEC’s letter and accompanying chart.
“These added regulatory burdens would add costs to new projects and place the state at a competitive disadvantage compared to areas that meet the EPA standards,” Templeton’s letter said.
Despite Templeton’s concern, several factors could help the state stay in compliance.
In estimating that 25 of 46 counties are at risk of failing the standard, DHEC based its calculations on a restrictive limit that may not come to pass. The EPA could drop the ozone limit from 75 parts per billion to 65 parts per billion, but those who follow air issues say the proposed standard may wind up only at 70 parts per billion. DHEC’s estimate was at 65 parts per billion.
At the same time, decisions by utilities to close coal-fired power plants in South Carolina also may help reduce ozone pollution, since these plants are major sources of the contamination.