Official: Northeast Ohio won't meet deadline for ozone standards

CLEVELAND - The state's top environmental official says it will be impossible for eight northeast Ohio counties to meet new, stricter ground-level ozone standards the federal government requires by 2010.

"You could do all kinds of Draconian things in northeast Ohio and it wouldn't matter," Joe Koncelik, director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, said Friday.

On hot days, ground-level ozone is created by pollutants from internal combustion engines and power plants. It can lead to coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath and damage crops.

The highest levels in the state are found in the Cleveland area, covering Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Medina, Lorain, Summit, Portage and Ashtabula counties.

The U.S. EPA in 2004 said the counties were not meeting the new federal standards. The agency has given the state until next year to create a plan to bring the region up to snuff and until 2010 to implement the plan.

The eight counties produce about one-third of the pollutants that lead to the region's unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone, Koncelik said. The rest comes from other parts of Ohio and neighboring states.

Even if there were with aggressive ozone-control measures implemented in neighboring states, he added, the region wouldn't be able to meet the news standards by 2010.

Koncelik was speaking at a meeting of the governing board of the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, which is putting together a list of options the state could consider to reduce ground-level ozone.

"You can't just abandon the process, and you can't abandon hope," said Howard Maier, the agency's executive director. "We're in the business to look into the future as much as we can, and we will continue to do our work."

Koncelik said the timetable set by the federal government is unreasonable, and that the federal EPA has not been receptive when Ohio's congressional delegation lobbied for more time.

One way to gain a three year extension would be for the governor to request that the federal government upgrade the region's status from "moderate" to "serious." But that might not be a good deal, because such a change would mean harsher federal mandates for industry, cars and other sources of pollution and could create a stigma that would keep away new businesses.

"This is a huge issue for northeast Ohio, and I don't think it's getting the attention it needs," Koncelik said. "Here is an issue that could present a huge challenge for economic development when you don't need more challenges to grow the economy in northeast Ohio."

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.