EPA can clean you out

To avoid being stripped of funding contractors must fight environmental issues

Article September 26, 2003
Printer-friendly version

If you work in a region that does not meet the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) clean air standards, then federal
funding for the road and transit projects in your region can come to a grinding
halt. In fact, the entire construction industry in the same region can quickly
begin to suffer, as limits on access to your communities begins to retard their
growth. 

Stop development

The consequences of not meeting air standards have long been
a problem for construction, but the problem is about to get worse. In 1997, EPA
strengthened the ozone (smog) and particulate matter (dust/soot) standards. EPA
delayed implementing these standards because it was tied up in lawsuits. In
2001, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld EPA's authority to issue the standards but
ordered the agency to rewrite its ozone implementation rule. The ozone and
particulate matter designations of attainment and nonattainment areas are expected
to take place in the April to December 2004 timeframe. style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 

EPA recently proposed its new implementation strategy
outlining steps states must take to meet the stricter ozone standard. In this rule,
EPA suggests a new program called the "Clean Air Development
Communities"

(CADC) to encourage development patterns that reduce overall
ozone emissions. AGC submitted a letter to EPA strongly opposing the program,
which would intrude on local land-use planning. The CADC program also would
shift certain emission credits that otherwise would remain in the mobile source
sector, where they could be used for conformity determinations, according to
the proposal states. AGC stresses in its comments, which are available
online 
(www.agc.org/Environmental_Info/env_reg_comments.asp), that this move
would have a negative effect on the construction industry. style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 

Nonstop stalling?

Even though the transportation conformity process has
undergone numerous revisions since its inception in 1993, the process remains
overly burdensome, disjointed and inefficient. The excessive frequency of
conformity determinations (due to statutory and regulatory mandates) means that
planning organizations are continually performing overlapping demonstrations.
Conformity lapses are almost always caused by procedural problems, not by a
nonattainment area building too much transportation infrastructure. Even more
troubling is the fact that transportation project opponents use legal challenges
to the conformity review process to disrupt the planning process and stop
construction.

Hundreds of local governments and the entire construction
industry will soon be subject to the nonstop process of reconciling local
transportation development with the goals of the Clean Air Act. With the advent
of EPA's new air quality standards for ozone and fine particulate matter, an
additional 194 areas covering 656 counties may soon be in nonattainment and
subject to this defective process for the first time.

EPA recently proposed its latest round of conformity
revisions that would replace certain regulatory provisions held invalid in a
1999 federal court decision and introduce new reforms to the process. AGC views
the streamlining revisions described in this proposal, when taken in aggregate,
as a positive step for the transportation conformity process. AGC states in its
comment letter that it supports changes that will lead to a reduction in the
number of conformity lapses, as well as those changes that will ensure the most
efficient use of transportation infrastructure and air planners' resources.
AGC's comments are available online (www. agc. org / Environmental
_Info/env_reg_comments.asp).

 AGC also has
prepared and distributed a comprehensive set of background papers on the very
complex matter of transportation conformity. These papers provide innovative
statutory solutions to many of the most troubling aspects of the transportation
conformity process, without having a negative impact on the environment. As Congress
works to reauthorize the federal aid highway program, AGC is aggressively
seeking meaningful reforms to the conformity process. View AGC's
recommendations online 
(www.agc.org/Environmental_Info/Air_Resources.asp).

About the author: 
Overlay Init