A new environmental report might hurt new and expanding businesses in West Michigan.
Three counties in West Michigan were classified as ozone nonattainment designations, according to the 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
Portions of Berrien, Muskegon and Allegan counties failed to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 70 parts per billion ozone precursors — nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — a standard that was put forth in 2015.
All three counties were measured to have surpassed the requirement in an ozone nonattainment report that was released by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in early August.
Muskegon County was registered at 74 ppb, while Allegan and Berrien counties each were measured at 73 ppb.
Steven Kohl, partner and environmental attorney at Warner Norcross & Judd, said those numbers are generated from data collected from 2015, 2016 and 2017. In 2015, standards were lowered from 75 parts per billion to 70 parts per billion.
There are minimal actions the state of Michigan can take to significantly lower ozone precursors because they are dependent on other states, he said.
“Meteorology and geology are the two elements that have placed portions of those counties in that position,” Kohl said. “Pollutants are transported from Chicago and Milwaukee over to Lake Michigan.”
Anthony Sullivan is a partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP’s Indianapolis office who focuses on environmental law. He said because of the large population in both Chicago and Milwaukee, there are a lot of cars, power plants, gasoline vapors and utility facilities that emit hazardous air pollutants over state lines. As a result, Michigan has no control over what the states of Illinois and Wisconsin do to limit the number of pollutants emitted in the air.
However, there are initiatives the state is taking to combat the high levels of ozone precursors, which might affect the growth of businesses in the counties.
Charlie Denton, who is an environmental attorney at Barnes & Thornburg’s Grand Rapids office, said there is a sense of uncertainty about how the business community will be affected.
“The business community does not know how the state economic development (will be) limited in terms of expansion because if someone wants to build a business, there will be stringent pollution limits on their air emission,” Denton said.
According to Erica Wolf, an environmental quality analyst for the state of Michigan, current businesses in nonattainment areas that have permits to emit NOx and VOCs do not have to meet any stringent emission standards, unless they go over the 40-ton-per-year threshold.
Wolf said companies that are planning to move their businesses in the nonattainment portions of the counties will have to adhere to stricter ozone policies. New businesses that emit 100 or more tons of NOx and/or VOCs per year will have to find a current business or possibly one that is closing, in the same nonattainment area to meet the offset standards, which is 1.1 tons per year of NOx or VOCs to offset every ton of ozone precursors a new business emits. NOx must offset NOx and VOCs must offset VOCs.
Businesses are responsible to find offset facilities, but Wolf said the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality can offer limited assistance if needed.
Michigan has 30 ozone monitors across the state that are regulated by the state or a tribe. Ozone monitoring season is from March 1 to Oct. 31. During that time, Wolf said, the levels are monitored for eight hours per day and the fourth highest average over the course of three years is decided to be the ozone precursor.
Although the counties along Lake Michigan have limited control over ozone emissions, Kohl said the state has until 2021 to come up with a plan for the counties to reach federal attainment levels.