Fears that Middle Georgia would fail to meet new federal air quality standards and jeopardize the capacity for Robins Air Force Base to accommodate new missions were allayed earlier this fall when the Environmental Protection Agency tightened the threshold for ground level ozone only moderately.
On Oct. 1, the EPA announced the new standard would only drop from 75 to 70 parts per billion, after environmental groups had lobbied for a lower threshold. EPA’s ozone sensor in Middle Georgia registered 74 parts per billion one year ago, but the most recent reading showed Bibb County at 63 parts per billion, reported macon.com.
“It was a big relief,” Centerville Mayor John Harley said of the new standard. Harley also is chairman of the Middle Georgia Clean Air Coalition, a group made up of representatives from Bibb and six surrounding counties that has led local efforts to reduce emissions over the last decade.
Combined with the region’s improved air quality, the new standard should give Robins a leg up in attracting new missions as well as enhance its standing in a future BRAC round, according to local officials.
The drop in ground level ozone in Middle Georgia is the product of a variety of efforts:
- the regional clean air coalition implemented multiple initiatives using a federal grant, including helping local governments shift to alternative fuel vehicles;
- Georgia Power invested in upgrades to reduce emissions from a coal-fired plant in Monroe County; and
- Norfolk Southern is launching a $9 million effort — with the help of $6.2 million in grants — to replace its most-polluting locomotives at its switching yard in Macon.
“I feel great about the future of the Macon area because of what’s going on,” Ray Clark, a consultant to the clean air coalition, told macon.com. “It was just a very, very smart idea to pull everybody together and have a sustained effort.”