D.C. Fails New EPA Standards, But is Not at Fault

National Center research associate Eric Chapman clears the air about regional air quality rules:

A Washington Post article on April 16, 2004 “Air Quality in Region Fails EPA’s New Test,” identified the District of Columbia and several Maryland and Virginia counties as failing to meet new smog standards. The new restrictions in the Clean Air Rules of 2004, which were announced on April 15 by the Environmental Protection Agency permit ozone levels to average no greater than 85 parts per billion (ppb) over an eight-hour period. In contrast to the levels enforced in 1990 – 120 ppb per hour – the new levels are far more encompassing. Because its air quality is designated as moderate, the District and many of its surrounding counties have until 2010 to improve their quality of air. However, D.C., Maryland and Virginia aren’t really the source of the problem.

In fact, most of the blame can be attributed to “transport” pollution, which comes in from Mid-western states. For example, emissions from Chicago, and other Midwest cities contribute to the rising ppb rates of cities on the East coast. “Transport pollution accounts for 70 percent of the pollution we experience during the worst days of summer,” said Joan Rolfs, the chief of air quality planning for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. According to the EPA, 474 counties in the nation were in violation of the new requirement. Deadlines to meet the new emissions regulation range from 2007 to 2021. Those counties with the most severe problems, like Los Angeles County, are given the most time to apply and enforce new measures of control.

The potential economic consequences of attaining such measures might prove to be problematic. Jeffrey Marks, the National Manufacturers Association director of air quality, commented that, “many communities will find it difficult to eventually meet such standards without jeopardizing local economic growth.” Touching on the issue of transport pollution as well, Marks notes, that, “more than half of the nation’s manufacturing capacity is located in non-attainment areas that have been reducing emissions for years, even as emissions from neighboring communities and states continue to pose problems for them. Unless transport pollution can be effectively remedied, expect Washington D.C. and its surrounding counties to maintain high ppb levels.

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