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Great, another road-building freeze

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The good news first. After almost a decade of failed attempts, Atlanta has finally come up with a plan to meet clean air standards that probably will be approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which means the area won't miss out on federal road and highway dollars like it did two years ago.

The EPA will announce by April 30 whether it approves or rejects the plan.

"We feel it is a better proposal and have suggested it be approved," says Richard Schutt, chief of the division that oversees Atlanta's air quality problems. "We hope to see some good improvement in air quality starting this year and next year."

The bad news, though, is that the EPA is coming up with new, tougher standards for ground-level ozone that will knock 24 Georgia counties out of what's called "attainment." Counties classified as "nonattainment" could eventually lose out on millions of federal road and highway dollars.

Twenty-one of those counties are in or just outside the Atlanta area.

Once the counties are designated as nonattainment areas, they'll have 18 months to come up with a plan to meet the new clean air rules. If EPA rejects the plan after a couple of tries, then the counties ultimately won't be able to spend money on new highways or roads.

EPA will take one if its first steps here in Atlanta by holding an all-day public meeting March 7 to explain the process and gather input from the public.

The meeting is 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at the Renaissance Concourse Hotel, One Hartsfield Centre Parkway, Atlanta. For more information, click on www.epa.gov/ttn/rto/ozonetech/o3imp8hr/o3imp8hr.htm

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