Thursday, September 03, 2009

Smog Shocker: smog problems off almost 50% in 2009

(Washington, D.C., September 3, 2009) – If you think there’s less smog this year, you are probably right.

Thanks in large part to cooler temperatures and more rain, the number of dirty-air days for smog nationwide has dropped by almost half in 2009 compared to last year, according to a survey by the non-profit Clean Air Watch.

The survey by Clean Air Watch volunteers is the first comprehensive snapshot of smog in the United States in 2009. It found that the national health standard for smog, technically ozone, was breached more than 2,600 times through August 31 at monitoring stations in 37 states and the District of Columbia.

During the same period last year, there were more than 5,000 such events, known in the jargon of the bureaucracy as “exceedences.”

There were several key factors in the smog drop, according to Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch: cooler, wetter weather, less use of coal-burning electric power plants to run air conditioners, the general decline in the economy, and the continuing turnover of cars and trucks to new models that meet tougher clean-air requirements. (Further information on these issues is available at )

“Despite the improvement, we can’t afford to drop our efforts to reduce smog-forming pollution,” O’Donnell said. “We can’t count on rain to wash the pollution away. Scientists warn that global warming could make it harder to achieve clean-air standards in the future. And, obviously, a sick economy is not the right cure for dirty air.”

Clean Air Watch is urging the EPA to take further steps to reduce ozone-forming pollution, including:

Setting new requirements to reduce smog-forming pollution from coal-fired power plants;

Following through with tougher pollution standards for ocean-going ships, whose emissions can reach far into inland areas;

Rejecting efforts by one diesel engine maker to delay new truck pollution standards; and

Rejecting efforts to pemit higher levels of smog-forming corn-based ethanol in gasoline.

O’Donnell noted that the statistics likely underestimate the full extent of the smog problem. The standard – 75 parts per billion, set by the EPA in 2008 – is weaker than the levels recommended by EPA’s scientific advisers.

Clean Air Watch is encouraging the Obama administration to set a tougher national health standard in accord with the latest health research.

Ozone, commonly described as smog, can trigger asthma attacks, send people to hospital emergency rooms and shorten lives.

Even though there were fewer dirty-air days overall, the survey of public web sites found monitored readings of harmful smog levels in states from coast to coast – from Washington and California to New Hampshire, Maine and Florida.

As in past years, the most severe problems generally have been in California.

The smog problems are unrelated to the hazardous smoke pollution created by the California wildfires.

The list of states and more on the survey is available at .

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Look out, "King Coal" -- EPA staff urges tough new standards for sulfur dioxide

Look out, “King Coal.” You may be winning hundreds of billions of climate bucks in Congress (money, by the way, that could and should go to residential consumers.)

But EPA;s career staffers are recommending that the agency set a tough new air quality standard to limit sulfur dioxide – one of the primary components of coal burning.

Please note the final EPA staff assessment of this issue, quietly published online this week:

I particularly want to commend your attention to pages 396-397, in which the EPA staffers argue that the scientific evidence “most strongly” supports a standard that would limit one-hour average concentrations to no more than 50-75 parts per billion. (This is within the range previously endorsed by EPA’s outside science advisers.) The EPA staff said higher levels could be justified if some of the scientific evidence is ignored. There is no one-hour standard today. See table regarding current annual and 24-hour standards .

If the EPA sets a standard at the lower end of the recommended range, it calculates that 54 counties (mainly in the Southeast and Midwest), home to 43.5 million people, would be out of compliance. See chart on page 388. These, of course, are areas where coal-burning power plants dominate.

The message here is clear: EPA standards could prompt the need to clean up many of the still-filthy coal-burning power plants.

These recommendations come as members of Congress appear to be falling all over each other to give hundreds of billions of dollars away to coal-related concerns and boast about their fealty to allegedly “clean coal,” while coal is at the center of a new lobbying scandal.

Sulfur dioxide, of course, is especially dangerous for children, senior citizens, and those with asthma and heart problems: ,

EPA is under a court agreement to propose new standards by Nov. 11 of this year and to set final standards by June 2, 2010.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Clean Air Watch: EPA Deserves Passing Grade for Air Plan

(Washington, DC. August 3, 2009) – The non-profit Clean Air Watch today said the U.S. EPA is on track to get a passing grade for its proposal to deal with dangerous nitrogen dioxide air pollution.

But Clean Air Watch added that the agency was “a long way from an A+” and it urged the EPA to “get that grade up” in order “to protect kids with asthma” and other breathers.

The comments came in testimony at an EPA hearing on an agency proposal to update national clean air standards for nitrogen dioxide. This widespread pollutant originates in traffic exhaust and the emissions from coal burning power plants and other smokestack industries. The current standard was set in 1971.

“This issue is a test for how the Obama administration’s EPA will deal with national clean air standards,” noted Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.

“The Bush administration failed miserably. All too often it ignored the science – and the agency’s own science advisers,” O’Donnell said.

“By contrast, we think the new EPA is on track for a passing grade with its proposal for nitrogen dioxide. But it’s a long way from an A+ when it comes to protecting kids with asthma. We think it’s probably more like a B or C right now,” depending on a range of options the agency has advanced.

“We’d like you to get that grade up. We think kids with asthma deserve no less than A+ public health protection,” said O’Donnell. Clean Air Watch supports the recommendations of the American Lung Association, which has urged tougher short-term and long-term nitrogen dioxide standards in addition to a better system of monitoring.

O’Donnell also noted that “dirty air” is “the forgotten topic when it comes to health care reform.

“It will cost a lot less to keep people out of the emergency rooms. And one way to do this is to reduce dangerous nitrogen dioxide pollution,” O’Donnell said.

Clean Air Watch’s testimony is available at