The area consists of the city of Atlanta and the counties of Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, Coweta, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Paulding, Rockdale, Barrow, Bartow, Carroll, Hall, Newton, Spalding and Walton.
Hall County’s air is getting cleaner.
The county is one of 20 in Georgia the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may redesignate as complying with 1997 air quality standards, based on the state’s request.
The EPA includes Hall County in the Atlanta area for air quality and ozone measurement and standards. Areas with persistent air quality problems are designated by the EPA as nonattainment areas. If an area later meets the EPA’s standards, it is redesignated as being in attainment, and called "maintenance areas."
If the EPA signs off, the area will be classified as a maintenance area, said Srikanth Yamala, planning director for Hall County.
Yamala also is director of the Gainesville-Hall County Metropolitan Planning Organization, which worked with the Atlanta Regional Commission, the lead agency, to address air quality issues.
The EPA determined the air was in compliance from 2008 to 2011. Preliminary data for 2012 shows the Atlanta area still ranks below emission standards.
"We did a really good analysis to make sure it wasn’t just a one year thing that couldn’t continue to be maintained well out into the future," said Carol Kemker, EPA deputy director of the air, pesticides and toxics management division in the Atlanta regional area.
The Atlanta area was designated as nonattainment in 2004 and didn’t meet Clean Air Act standards. The primary source of concern, says a report on the Gainesville-Hall County MPO
website, was direct motor vehicle emissions, both from the combustion process and from tire and brake wear.
Kemker said additional rules for North Georgia counties have helped keep lower emissions in cities such as Gainesville.
"The air being cleaner means that kids can play outside more in the summer without suffering from asthma," Kemker said.
Yamala said the agencies worked to reduce the numbers of trips or time residents had to spend in their cars. The achievement of area officials to reach and maintain the clean air standards means a higher quality of life for every resident, Kemker said.
The federal agency requires the area to put a plan in place to show it will stay in compliance and indicate actions to be triggered if a violation occurs. Staff from the Gainesville-Hall County MPO worked closely with the ARC to develop a regional plan, also known as a conformity determination. It demonstrates to the federal government that the area’s transportation plans meet air quality standards, said John Orr, planning manager for transportation for the commission.
The online report lists some physical improvements and traffic demand strategies to keep the air quality clean, including expanding public transit, encouraging carpooling and intersection realignment.
"We’ve had a very good working relationship," Orr said, referring to Gainesville-Hall County MPO staff.
A 30-day public comment period on the move ends March 6.