Act violations may require federal fuel

By Michael Davis

Metro-Atlantans may be seeing higher gas prices because of a "bumped-up" status as a violator of the Clean Air Act.

Beginning Jan. 1, the 13-county Metro-Atlanta region, which includes Clayton, will be classified as a "severe" violator, a step below its current "serious" violator status.

One year from then, the Act mandates that gas stations throughout the region sell a federally approved gasoline.

This gas could be as much as 7 cents per gallon higher than the gas currently sold at Georgia's pumps, say some at the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, and it may not be as good for the environment.

"With the bump-up, we're facing having to start selling that RFG (reformulated gasoline) which we think is not going to burn as clean as the Georgia gas," said Kevin Chambers, a spokesman for the EPD.

But the down-grade of Atlanta's status is not based on current pollution ratings. In 1999, when Atlanta failed to meet air quality requirements, the EPA developed "an extension policy" to allow Atlanta and other areas to meet requirements, said Dick Schutte, Chief of Regulatory Development at the EPA.

The new rating is the result of lawsuits against the EPA by environmental groups seeking to tighten regulation.

If Atlanta were to be classified today, Schutte said, "it would be classified as moderate."

Scientists with the EPA say that comparing the federally mandated fuel and the Georgia fuel is like comparing "apples and oranges."

Lynore Benjamin, an environmental scientist with the EPA's Region 4 office in Atlanta, said that the federal reformulated gas must meet two more performance requirements than the Georgia gas.

"I don't know that you could do a direct comparison between the reformulated gas and the Georgia gas," she said.

In 1999, Georgia started selling a cleaner burning fuel during peak ozone season developed specifically for the region's ozone problems. Recently, gas stations in the 45 counties in northern Georgia started selling the gas year-round.

"I think it's important to understand that the bump-up doesn't mean the air is getting worse," said Chambers. "It's actually gotten better."

Because the gas was specially formulated for Georgia's ozone needs, he said "this requirement could actually exacerbate the problem."

Of the Georgia gas, Chambers said, "outside of California, it's the cleanest burning fuel available."

The federally mandated gasoline, was formulated to reduce carbon monoxide, a pollutant that does not have a major impact in the Atlanta area, said Ric Cobb, executive director of the Georgia Petroleum Council.

The gas formulated for Georgia, he said, addresses Nitrogen Oxide, which along with heat, contributes to the ozone problem.

"From June to December, we have a problem with heat and a lack of wind," said Cobb.