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New Ozone Standard Raises Development Concerns in Nearly 500 Counties

A new, more stringent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard for ozone emissions potentially could have an impact on residential development in many parts of the country.

On April 15, the agency listed 476 counties as “non-attainment areas” in violation of the new standard, up from 221 under the previous standard. State and local governments now have three years to develop plans to bring these counties into compliance.

“Home builders should have their interests represented when states are hashing out these new plans to correct air quality levels,” said NAHB President Bobby Rayburn. “These designations could have a dramatic effect on local economic development.”

Nineteen of the nation’s top 25 housing markets — including Atlanta; Phoenix-Mesa; Riverside-San Bernardino, CA; Houston, Washington, D.C.; Las Vegas; Chicago; Dallas; Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, SC; Sacramento, CA; Detroit; Fort Worth-Arlington, TX; Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, NC; Indianapolis; Denver, St. Louis; Philadelphia; Columbus, OH; and Nashville — have failed to meet the new ozone standard.

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States and localities that don't bring polluted areas into compliance face sanctions that include severe restrictions on economic development activities or the freezing of federal funding for roads. They are required to reduce ozone emissions from the three primary sources of the nitrogen oxide in smog: stationary sources, such as large industrial facilities and power plants; area sources such as dry cleaners; and transportation.

“Building new homes cannot be accomplished without adequate access to new roads or highways,” said Rayburn, “and any restrictions placed on home construction could hogtie our industry and the entire economy. We will closely monitor this situation and ensure that the home building industry is not adversely affected by the implementation of the new standard.”

A construction ban proposed three years ago by regional policy makers in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas highlights the potential impact of the EPA’s new standard. Under the plan, diesel-powered construction equipment with greater than 50-horsepower engines — such as cranes, backhoes and forklifts — would have been banned between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. in 12 counties and until noon in eight others. State and local home builders associations fought the ban and won.

“We must continue our vigilance over these regional planning and policy decisions being developed, and be prepared to take an active role in the ensuing discussions over air quality issues in the Dallas area,” said Robert Morris, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Greater Dallas.

“When regional air quality solutions are discussed, we will be the voice for Dallas home builders and home buyers,” he said, “and work with all industries to share equally in the efforts to improve our region’s air quality.”

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