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County not meeting ozone standards

Think of Lawrence County and a peaceful green hills and fertile farms might come to your mind.

But in Columbus, environmental officials have another image of Lawrence County: skies filled with dirty polluted air.

Because it lies on the border with Boyd County, Ky., and Cabell County, W.Va., areas that are heavily industrialized, Lawrence County has made the list of 33 counties throughout Ohio that exceed federal ozone limits and face tough air pollution measures as a consequence.

On Tuesday, state environmental regulators submitted the list of counties to the federal government. It was the first step in a years-long process that could lead to further regulation of polluting industries. State environmental officials have initially recommended that Lawrence County be included in a non-attainment zone with Boyd and Greenup counties in Kentucky, and Cabell and Wayne counties in West Virginia.

The U.S. EPA must develop final designations of counties not meeting the standard by April 2004.

The state then has three years to develop a plan for reducing pollution in those areas, said Ohio EPA spokeswoman Heidi Griesmer.

That could include reducing emissions from power plants, large industrial boilers and vehicles, she said.

Local leaders have previously expressed concerns that if Lawrence County is forced to adopt tougher restrictions on business and industry, entities that may want to locate or expand here will look elsewhere. This would place yet another burden on an already weak economy.

Business groups throughout the state are expected to lobby for a plan that focuses on reducing vehicle emissions rather than further regulation of industry, said Linda Woggon, vice president for governmental affairs for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.

By reducing car pollution, ''you get very large reductions in emissions with relatively little investment,'' Woggon said Tuesday. ''On the other hand, if you try and impose greater regulation on stationary sources like your big manufacturers, it's much more expensive for fewer reduction.''

But the Ohio Environmental Council said the real source of pollution is power plants and large vehicles with diesel engines such as heavy trucks, buses and farm equipment.

Cars are also a major source of pollution but car makers have gone farther in reducing vehicle emissions, said Kurt Waltzer of the Ohio Environmental Council.

Tuesday's announcement followed the U.S. EPA's decision in November to resume asking states to submit a list of counties that would not be able to meet the requirement for limiting ozone, a major component of smog.

The U.S. EPA decision came in a proposed court settlement with environmental groups.

The Clinton administration had begun that process, but industry groups brought it to a halt by challenging the new ozone standard all the way to the Supreme Court, which upheld the new standard in February 2001.

The 1997 standard limited ozone to 0.08 parts per million, instead of 0.12 parts per million, a standard issued in 1979. It also required averaging measurements of the pollution over eight hours, instead of one hour, to better reflect actual air quality.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.