Virginia Air Getting Cleaner

Good news is hard to find these days, so let’s celebrate what crumbs we can find: Virginia’s air is the cleanest it has been in years, the Department of Environmental Quality has announced. States the press release:

For years now, the trend for air quality in Virginia has been one of steady improvement. Pollutants such as ozone, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and particles have shown consistent declines for 20 years or more. Emissions of these pollutants in Virginia have decreased by almost 60 percent in the past 20 years. This has happened in the face of increased demand for electricity and many more vehicles on Virginia’s highways.

Twenty years ago, the ozone health standard was 120 parts per billion, and dozens of Virginia localities failed to meet it. Since then, the standard has been strengthened to 70 parts per billion. Yet only on four days this summer, the season of peak ozone, did ozone readings surpass the tighter limits, and even then exceedances were limited to four localities.

Ozone is an important pollutant to control because it is commonly said to be a cause of asthma, a health issue that affects millions of Americans. States the Environmental Protection Agency: “Although the data are inconsistent, some epidemiological studies suggest that long-term exposure to ozone could play a role in the development of asthma.” There is greater scientific certainty that high ozone levels create health issues for people who already have asthma.

While the incidence and severity of asthma is tied to many things other than ozone, such as obesity and smoking, the trend to cleaner air in Virginia coincides with a decline in asthma-related fatalities. In fact, the rate of such fatalities in Virginia, once higher than the national average, was lower in 2010, the most recent year for which I could find data.

So, rejoice, people, political conflict may be driving us to despair, but life is getting better in many ways. The hundreds of billions of dollars invested in cleaning up smokestacks and auto exhaust is paying off.

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18 responses to “Virginia Air Getting Cleaner

  1. but….but.. what about those evil Obama job-killing regulations?

    we’ve squandered billions of dollars so some old geezers don’t get the sniffles?

    Geeze.

  2. However, the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline with its Buckingham Compressor Station will change this so that Virginia’s pollution will significantly increase – giant turbines run 24/7 to produce horsepower equivalent to two hundred NASCAR race cars. Imagine 291-2,005 (depending on the toxin measured) diesel school buses running 24/7.

    Those of us who live in the area have been told that our air is so clean that this will not harm us or our animals. We don’t believe it. Unfortunately, the company is not required to even attempt to regularly measure the quantity of pollution this will put into the air. Each piece of pipeline equipment is evaluated separately so they can use the least protective of the public standards.

    Enjoy the good rating while you can. It’s poised to change dramatically.

  3. The two big positive elements would be (1) less coal burning, and (2) much cleaner gasoline-powered cars (as opposed to diesel which is still an issue for Europe, etc).

    Less coal burning is due to (a) cheap natural gas, and (b) more renewables such as wind/solar as well as conservation (LED lights etc).

    Cleaner cars due to improved 3-way catalytic converters and regulations to require ultra-low sulfur in gasoline (whereas even trace sulfur reduces the catalytic converter efficiency). I believe some of the low sulfur gasoline regulations are still being phased-in, so more improvement can be expected.

    However, public expectations are a moving target. Public now wants closer to zero pollution, if not zero. So there is still a conflict.

  4. I thought the public wanted the EPA closed down! At least that’s what I hear much of the time from the most vocal politicos these days like Dave Brat.

    If you listen to the GOP – people want the EPA shut down because of it’s “job killing regulations”.

    The cleaner power plants and cars came directly from the EPA…but at a cost of those terrible “job killing regulations”.

    Methinks sometimes some folks play both sides of the street. They HATE the EPA but LOVE clean air – as if the two are totally separate things!

  5. Up to your usual straw man trick, Larry. Nixon created EPA. Republicans support the EPA’s goals and you’d be surprised at the level of business leaders who agree. But how you write the reg, where you come down on the margins, very much matters. And there are times when any regulatory agency can go rogue, become detrimental. The wrong regs can be job killing. But we all understand what would happen if there were no rules, no enforcement. As I’ve mentioned before I have strong memories of the air pollution in the LA basin fifty years ago. I read that book we were discussing a while back, about the Virginia Air Board, and concluded she was largely whiny because in the situations she cited the Air Board got much of what it sought. Not all, but not nothing. It’s a process. Sometimes compromise is a good outcome!

  6. @Steve – compromise is good but so is the truth about who has opposed the EPA from it’s inception… tooth and nail .. even single regulation… and to this day…

    You might remember the LA Basin.. I remember Acid Rain and a Potomac River that was so gross that pleasure boating was an oxymoron.

    As a paddler of Virginia’s rivers, I can tell you that there is no end of folks who still think rivers are where you put waste – were it not for that job killing EPA! Kepone, PCBs, Dixoin, poultry poop, you name it .. and every one of those businesses, most often with GOP owners rail against the EPA!

    like I said – we have folks who love the clean air and water and hate the EPA!

    it’s not even a love/hate relationship – it’s like two different lovers!

  7. Just to be clear – I’ve never heard the GOP come back and advocate for “compromise”. More often than not , what they advocate for is total elimination of the regulations and the EPA itself.

    I could actually get on board with compromise.. but like I said – that word, in general, in not in the vocabulary – it’s more often than not – what we are seeing right now – not a “compromise” of the CPP – just total elimination of it – period – without anything to replace it.

    If the GOP were in charge of the EPA – it would shrivel up as an agency and most of the regulations we see today – would be gone.

    Be honest here .. Steve.. you KNOW this is the truth!

    • The CPP was suspended by the U.S. Supreme Court because it was not authorized by an act of Congress. No president has the authority to make law.

      I don’t think anyone truly wants to live in a nation where the executive can declare law. We have a government with three co-equal branches. A balance of power to protect the liberty of the people. There is built-in bias in favor of the status quo.

      • The court case was on a technicality… Regulations are routinely made by all agencies – within the context of the laws … clean air act, clean water act, etc… virtually all the rules are promulgated regulations.

        There could have been a compromise proposal – to do something rather than an all or nothing approach. They went for all or nothing.. which is the history of those who oppose the EPA regulations – all of them.. want a history?

        • Larry, an agency has to have statutory authority to adopt regulations. When the statutes authorizing and controlling the EPA were passed, no one in Congress would have thought they gave the Agency the authority to restructure the electric power industry.

          For example, FERC’s website contains a page that says: “National policy for many years has been, and continues to be, to foster competition in wholesale power markets. In each major energy bill over the last few decades, Congress has acted to open up the wholesale electric power market by facilitating entry of new generators to compete with traditional utilities. As the third major federal law enacted in the last 30 years to embrace wholesale competition, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 strengthened the legal framework for continuing wholesale competition as federal policy for this country. The Commission has acted quickly and strongly over the years to implement this national policy.” https://www.ferc.gov/industries/electric/indus-act/competition.asp

          But for this legislation over the years, FERC would not be able to promote wholesale competition.

          The 1996 Telecommunications Act preempted state laws that prohibited local competition. But for that statute, the FCC could not adopt rules mandating incumbent telephone companies interconnect with competitors. A state PUC like the VSCC could have said – not in our state. But Congress took that power away from the states.

          The EPA does not have statutory authority to restructure the electric power industry. It’s got nothing to do with compromise. Either a statute exists and it’s language provide the EPA with authority or it doesn’t.

          Years ago, the FCC wrote an order fining one of our clients. We appealed the order to the court of appeals. In our brief, we explained that Congress, way back in 1934, exempted telephone companies that did not provide interstate calling services directly from most of the FCC’s jurisdiction. The Commission agreed to vacate the fine because its lawyers agreed the FCC lacked statutory power in our case. It wasn’t a technicality. The FCC simply lacked statutory authority over this type of rural telephone company. Had our client been a bigger telephone company that directly provided interstate services, the fine would have stuck. Laws mean something. And so does a lack of a law granting an agency authority to take a specific action.

          • CleanAir&Water

            TMT,
            The EPA has the right to regulate toxic emission including GHGs as the Supreme Court said. To stop those emissions the utility industry needs to redo themselves. If they are about electricity then they need to make it without toxic emissions. That is not directing them on how .. but it does mean they need to restructure or quit.

            FERC uses the argument that the pipelines are meant to carry natural gas and so they can’t consider any other idea. Silly, when the pipelines claim the ‘need’ for them rests on the need for electricity, not the need for the gas itself. All the craziness of the Clean Power Plan rested with the idea that the federal government did not want to say ‘how’ the emission reductions should take place. Better to have just said … “here is the schedule of reductions required … Period!”

            The fact is now that the EPA is not doing its job … New York officials say they will sue the EPA for failure to address pollution coming from upwind sources in other states, particularly those in Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. The federal government must do its duty under Good Neighbor provisions of the Clean Air Act and replace, within 60 days, the Federal Implementation Plans (FIPs) that expired in August. MD is planning their own suit.

  8. Yes, Larry, I do – the GOP is currently in charge of the EPA. Who has a bill pending to eliminate it? Pruitt is changing some things but I suggest you go dump a few barrels of toxic chemicals into the river and call the director and turn yourself it and see what happens….(I will come testify for you, I swear…) I think you will find the laws are being enforced.

    • Steve – I’m talking about the history of the EPA since it’s inception and if or when compromise was proposed instead of outright repeal of the regs.

      Pruitt is doing what the GOP does when they do get in charge – they start to systematically dismantle the agency – to gut the regs they can and to replace the professional leadership with industry folks.

      Want a list of the regs they say they intend to “change”? it’s not a short one.

      I have yet to hear from any Conservative or GOP – what we should do to protect the air and water but rather how to kill the regulations.

      The Administration wants to gut the Chesapeake Bay Act. Tell me the GOP in Virginia that have stood up to defend it … zippo… guy… and you know it.

      • In order to agree with you, one must agree that the EPA regulations in effect are environmentally, economically and procedurally sound. I don’t follow EPA regulations in detail, but I am quite familiar with those of the FCC and FTC.

        Some make sense. Others don’t. For example, the FCC adopted rules that cut the cost of terminating an interstate call to zero in all but the smallest towns and rural areas. The regulation generally reduced the incentive to operate free conference call bridges in rural America. But it also made terminating robocalls free. The volume of robocalls has skyrocketed. Good rule? Not in my view. Free sells well. And Americans are plagued by robocalls.

        Democrats increase economic regulation; Republicans decrease it. Neither means a particular rule is good or sound or should remain on the books as is. Your starting premise doesn’t cut it.

        • the starting premise is that you calibrate the regulations – and that requires both sides to work on doing that.

          Take the TMDLs in Virginia, or the storm water runoff problem in Fairfax or the CSOs in Alexandria.

          is it the case that the Dems want all these things done and the GOP are opposed to any/all of it?

          Look at your own region in terms of what needs to be done – or not and whether the “regs” address it – or not.

  9. I would give EPA credit for cleaner cars, but the coal thing is a sore point. The EPA “grandfathered” so many dirty old coal plants that gave us much acid rain, but of course under Obama, the EPA started changing their coal approach, but too late as the cheap nat gas took over as the driver, thankfully.

  10. Steve …My problem is that Pruitt is only getting started. Here is a partial list of new appointees as he reconstitutes the EPA’s Science Advisory Board with the likes of … Michael Honeycutt, “who directs the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s toxicology division. Over the last decade, Honeycutt rolled back the state’s protections for 45 toxic chemicals, including arsenic, benzene and formaldehyde and even testified before Congress that “some studies even suggest PM makes you live longer.” That is the stuff that gave Richmond the highest asthma rate in the country awhile back.

    And … “Kimberly White is senior director of chemical products at the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the country’s largest chemical manufacturing trade association.” …. Anne Smith, who “has written reports for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers and other industry trade groups arguing that the EPA underestimates the cost of its rules” …. And Richard Smith and S. Stanley Young, two statisticians co-authored an August 2017 study claiming there is “little evidence” of a connection between fine particulate pollution and premature death, ignoring established scientific understanding of air pollution and health risks.“

    Three other appointees, meanwhile, directly represent the energy industry: Merlin Lindstrom is vice president of technology at Phillips 66, Robert Merritt was a geology manager at Total, and Larry Monroe was the chief environmental officer at Southern Company.”

    If he waited a few months, maybe Larry could dump just about anything

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