(Source: U.S. EPA)

When the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled its latest tally of states with significant air pollution, there was mixed news for construction. The April 15 announcement that 474 counties in 31 states did not meet new standards for ground-level ozone could mean new work for firms that retrofit powerplants and other industrial facilities. But in some cases it could halt federal highway construction projects in counties that do not decrease ozone levels by a targeted date.

"This isn’t about the air getting dirtier," says EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt. "These new rules are about our new understanding of health threats; about our standards getting tougher and our national resolve to meet them."

Counties will be classified based on the severity of their ozone problem by June 15. Then, state and local governments must prepare a plan that details their efforts to reduce the ozone by a targeted date. More than 2,660 counties were deemed in compliance with the standard and will take no action.


Leavitt says there are two primary tools to help counties reach attainment. One is the proposed Clean Air Interstate Rule that would reduce powerplant emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides that blow across state lines and significantly boost pollution levels in down- wind cities. The other tool is a rule to regulate off-road diesel engine emissions from construction and other equipment, expected to be finalized within a month.

The clean-air rule, proposed in January and also referred to as the Interstate Air Quality Rule, will generate roughly 100,000 MW of retrofit activity, says Tony Licata, customer relations director for Babcock Power Environmental, Worcester, Mass. Licata expects 63,000 MW of that for scrubbers and 44 MW for selective catalytic reduction technology. The rule will apply to 29 eastern states and the District of Columbia, but has repercussions for states downwind.

For Southern Co., the Atlanta-based utility, just staying on top of a large number of simultaneous construction projects will be one of the greatest challenges in complying with the rule. Installing the large numbers of control equipment required by the first deadline in 2010 is difficult, "if not impossible to do," says Vicky Sullivan, Southern’s Birmingham, Ala.-based environmental issues manager.

Southern has between 25,000 and 28,000 MW of coal-fired generation capacity, Sullivan says. "We’re looking at having to retrofit a couple-dozen scrubbers. We have installed 10 selective catalytic reduction devices, and we’re looking at or currently installing three others," she says. Availability of qualified labor also is a concern, not just of boilermakers but of other trades, Sullivan notes.

Greg Smith, vice president for en-vironmental and regulatory affairs for the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, says that states will have to show that new-capacity construction projects meet conformity guidelines by June 15, 2005. If a new highway project would result in an increase of pollutants, federal funds could be cut off.

ARTBA remains concerned that there could be significant job losses and billions of dollars of construction halted. According to economic analysis conducted when original ozone rules were proposed in 1997, ARTBA concluded that several hundred thousand construction workers could lose their jobs, and that states could lose a total of $11.7 billion in federal highway funds. In 2001, state transportation departments surveyed about project delays indicated that in 2000, 98 projects worth $1.3 billion were delayed due to transportation conformity issues. The impact today, using current dollars, could potentially be far greater, says Smith.

The transportation conformity rule applies to areas 20 years after they have achieved attainment of federal air quality standards. So even those areas that meet new standards in three years will have to contend with the consequences of nonattainment for another 20 years, claims Smith.