- Associated Press - Sunday, November 2, 2014

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - Federal regulators could soon declare Memphis and surrounding areas in compliance with the Clean Air Act for reducing smog, which could help the region attract manufacturing jobs, officials said.

According to The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/1yNKDec), Shelby County officials say data over the past three years indicate the area has met strict ozone pollution standards enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency since 2012.

If the EPA agrees, Shelby County in West Tennessee, Crittenden County in eastern Arkansas and part of DeSoto County in north Mississippi would be reclassified from “nonattainment” to “attainment” of air-quality standards. The change would remove costly pollution-control requirements for any incoming industry or large factory expansion.

Dexter Muller, senior vice president for community development for the Greater Memphis Chamber, calls the possible change in Memphis’ air quality a “big deal.” He says manufacturing jobs are headed back to the U.S. as transportation and labor costs rise overseas.

“This (attainment) helps us not only with expansions, but recruiting prospects,” he said.

Ground-level ozone, which can scar the lungs and create added dangers for asthmatics, long has been a problem in Memphis. It’s created when nitrogen oxides emitted by power plants and factories mix with the volatile organic compounds released by motor vehicles and industries in the presence of sunlight.

Memphis’ long, hot summers and typically stagnant winds create good conditions for ozone pollution. The Memphis area briefly achieved compliance with ozone limits in 2010, but the EPA’s enforcement of stricter standards two years later threw it back into nonattainment status.

The area must show it complied with the “attainment” standard over a three-year period in order to be reclassified.

Relatively favorable weather and the shutdown of some manufacturing plants contributed to lower pollution levels, said Bob Rogers, pollution control manager for the Health Department.

But the improved air quality mostly is a result of cleaner-burning fuels and engines, along with diagnostic computer systems, in motor vehicles, Rogers said.

“New cars and trucks are so much cleaner,” he said.

Many local factories also cleaned up their pollution. Facilities ranging from Kruger Products’ KTG USA tissue-making plant in north Memphis to Carrier Corp.’s air conditioner factory in Collierville slashed their emissions of smog-causing compounds by 30 percent or more between 2008 and 2012, records show.

If the new classification is approved, incoming industries, and existing plants that expand, won’t be bound to employ “best available control technology” to limit emissions.

That requirement, which can be extremely costly, put the Memphis area at a major disadvantage during the competition in the mid-2000s to attract the Toyota plant that eventually was built near Tupelo, Mississippi, economic development officials say.

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Information from: The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com

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