City, county look to shed stigma of EPA designation |

City, county look to shed stigma of EPA designation

Jeremy Heiman

Aspen and Pitkin County will attempt next month to shed the stigma of being a “non-attainment area” under the Environmental Protection Agency’s air pollution standards.

City and county environmental health staff are preparing a plan that they hope will keep Aspen’s air within federal standards for the next 15 years. The city and part of the county have been listed as a non-attainment area by the federal government since 1987. In that year, amounts of PM-10 in excess of EPA standards were measured in Aspen’s air. PM-10 is air pollution made up of particles of dust and other materials 10 microns or less in diameter.

Officials are still determining what measures will be proposed to keep Aspen’s air within federal standards. Most measures relate to reduction of dust raised by traffic.

“We’re working on a plan that will make that happen,” said Aspen environmental health director Lee Cassin. The plan, called a state implementation plan, or SIP, will probably be submitted by mid-December, she said.

The city and county have disagreed with the Colorado attorney general’s office and the EPA on what measures are appropriate to keep Aspen’s air at a relatively clean level. A set of measures suggested by the state boils down to sweeping Highway 82 through town and continuing the city’s paid parking program. These measures are “specific and enforceable,” conforming to criteria specified by the Clean Air Act, Cassin said.

But sweeping the streets has already proved to be ineffective, partly because the sweeping process itself raises so much dust. City and county officials prefer a more general plan, aimed at keeping traffic capped at 1994 levels.

Local officials chose the cap on traffic, Cassin said, because they know it will work, and because the same limit is already required in the environmental impact statement for the Entrance to Aspen.

The original SIP submitted by the city and county after the 1987 violation contained a number of measures which were either discontinued or not achieved. For example, the HOV lane on Main Street was discontinued, the airport intercept parking lot and shuttle buses were never used, and voluntary no-burn and no-drive days during peak season were not observed.

Cassin said there’s no specific practical reason to be an attainment area, but if Aspen doesn’t apply on its own, the state will re-designate the community in January and impose its own conditions. County Commissioner Mick Ireland noted that if Aspen remains a non-attainment area, some future application for federal funds could conceivably be rejected on that ground.

If Aspen and Pitkin County are unable to keep to the conditions in the SIP, the state can levy fines, Cassin said. But a more likely outcome would be that other measures would be put in place by mutual agreement.

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