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Fishing along the Atlantic Shore

2010 December 23
Tim Sharac fishing, using a castnet.

Tim Sharac fishing, using a castnet.

When the water warms up, I’m out fishing. I’ve fished from the Connecticut Lakes of New Hampshire down to the Virginia/North Carolina border of the Atlantic Ocean; from brook trout to fluke. Nothing is as peaceful as heading out onto the water before the sun rises, cutting off the engine, and setting my boat adrift with multiple fishing poles set out to drag live bait along the ocean floor. I do this for days on end during the summer months; oftentimes catching my own bait with the use of a castnet. If things work out right, I toss a few bluefish and croaker into the cooler and head back home to prepare buttery delicious fish on the grill. I’m thankful for these beautiful days out at sea and the fish I catch, and I realize that a great deal of the enjoyment I experience is based on our environment. A clean environment yields clean water that fish need to thrive and reproduce.  This clean environment wouldn’t be so without limits on air pollution, which have a direct impact on water quality. Without limits on air pollution, I know acid rain and mercury pollution would be far greater than they are today.

So what do limits on air pollution, and more specifically the Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAA), have to do with fishing? Well, for one thing, without good visibility, I wouldn’t be able to see diving birds miles away from my boat. I utilize diving birds to indicate where fish are actively feeding. Next point is mercury. One of the many co-benefits of reducing sulfur and nitrogen emissions from coal-fired power plants is the reduction of mercury emissions. Mercury is the primary neurotoxin (i.e., it affects nerve cells) driving fish-consumption advisories in the U.S. Because of numerous fish-consumption advisories in the U.S., mercury pollution still presents a problem, but the problem would be far greater had the CAAA not been passed.  So the more fish I can safely eat, the more I can feel content about going out on the water and exploring the Atlantic shore.

About the author: Tim Sharac is an environmental scientist and National Atmospheric Deposition Program – Atmospheric Mercury Network advocate for the Clean Air Markets Division.  One of his favorite activities is ocean fishing on the eastern shore of Virginia.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Take the Easy Way

2010 December 15

My commute to work follows one of the finest urban bike paths in the country on the Capital Crescent Trail , a converted rail line running from the Maryland suburbs to the edge of downtown Washington, DC.  I am asked on occasion if I worry about breathing exhaust while on my bike.  With plenty of time in the saddle to think it over I started wondering: how is the air today?  That’s a question anyone can easily answer thanks to the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990.  One of the benefits of the landmark legislation was the expansion of air quality monitoring and the publishing of such information widely.  Today, I subscribe to EnviroFlash email alerts and get a daily forecast of air quality for the next three days.  I like to get their “Air Quality Notifications” in my inbox before I go out for a ride.

Metro Washington, DC did not see a single ‘code red’ (very unhealthy) alert in 2005 for the first time since the color system was inaugurated.  This doesn’t mean the problem is solved, however.  Over the summer of 2010 there were several ‘code orange‘ (unhealthy to sensitive groups) and ‘red’ events.  The negative effects of poor air quality on human health, over the long term, are indisputable but these alerts are based on ambient air quality.  Your personal exposure depends on a variety of factors and one of these is how you get to work.

When the morning weather report indicates the air quality forecast is not coming up ‘green’ you might think that driving your car is your best alternative.  After all, if it’s summer in DC you’ve got the windows rolled up and the air conditioner blasting.  But studies comparing different modes of transportation have found that driving a car does not mean you’re breathing fresh air.  A 2000 report by the International Center for Technology Assessment found that ‘in car’ air quality by a number of measures is worse than the ambient levels outside.  And the pollutants of concern, such as fine particulates and carbon monoxide, are not something your car’s air conditioner will filter out.

A 2004 study in Sydney found automobile drivers’ exposure, measured by personal monitors, higher than cyclists and walkers in all five pollutants.  The researchers noted that one explanation may be the “tunnel of pollutants” effect on a busy road where your vehicle’s air intake is taking in the exhaust of the cars in front of you.  The test subjects in Sydney followed their usual commuting pattern.  Cyclists, by favoring streets with less traffic, lowered their exposure compared to drivers.

A more recent 2007-2008 study undertaken in the Netherlands compared car, bike, walking, bus and train transportation modes along the same routes.  For contrast, they also included a low-traffic bike route.  The results emphasize two points of importance to urban cyclists.  Using heart rate monitors the researchers found that bike commuters respirated at about twice the rate of car and bus passengers.  This is normally a good thing and one of the health benefits of biking.  But on the high-traffic route this also meant the cyclists had the highest inhaled doses of some pollutants.  The lesson for cyclists from the Netherlands study is to take the easy way.  Pick your route carefully and avoid busy streets whenever possible.  Cyclists on the high-traffic route had an exposure level 40% higher than the low-traffic alternative.  In other words, cyclists can significantly reduce their dosage by riding off road or on the least busy streets possible.

Back home, two decades after the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990, the air quality in metro Washington, DC continues to improve but we still are not meeting the federal standards.  This past summer there were several times I did not to ride due to ‘code red’ forecasts.  When you ride, keep your head up and look for ‘greener’ days ahead.

For further reading:

Comparison of air pollution exposure for five commuting modes in Sydney – car, train, bus, bicycle and walking (PDF)

Commuters’ exposure to particulate matter air pollution is affected by mode of transport, fuel type, and route.

All-cause mortality associated with physical activity during leisure time, work, sports, and cycling to work.

In-Car Air Pollution The Hidden Threat to Automobile Drivers

Peter Kokopeli is a senior environmental protection specialist with the EPA’s Clean Air Markets Division in Washington, DC.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Playing Tour Guide

2010 December 7

As any visitor to Washington, D.C. knows, the city has some fantastic museums and breathtaking monuments. When out-of-town family and friends come to Washington, my daughter and I like to take them on a monument tour. This fall we took some friends around the Capitol Building. Overlooking the National Mall from Capitol Hill, the building has been the home of the United States Congress since November 1800.

While walking around the building we noticed several sections that had been damaged by acid rain.  I explained to our tour guide – my daughter – that sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides pollution from power plants and other sources react in the atmosphere to form acid rain. When the acid rain falls on the Capitol Building and the surrounding statues the marble and limestone dissolves, leaving a rough, pock-marked surface.

It seems appropriate that it was in this same building that Congress passed a law to reduce acid rain by limiting sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emissions from power plants. The Acid Rain Program became law 20 years ago when President George H.W. Bush signed the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments into law.  The Acid Rain Program and now the Clean Air Interstate Rule have resulted in dramatic reductions in pollution from power plants and, as a result, acid rain.

As we finished our Capitol Building tour and started the long walk to the Lincoln Memorial at the other end of the National Mall, I remarked with some pride that the actions of thousands of individuals, including policymakers, scientists, engineers, power plant operators, and concerned citizens, helped protect our cultural heritage on the National Mall in D.C. and the rest of the country.

About the author:  Jeremy Schreifels is a senior policy analyst working in the Clean Air Markets Division.  He and his daughters enjoy visiting the museums and parks around Washington, especially the ice rink on the National Mall.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Big Sky, Clean Air

2010 November 30
We all have heard about tremendous improvements in air quality that have been attributed to the Clean Air Act (CAA).  Such as, establishing a market based emissions trading program which has significantly helped address the issue of Acid Rain, a problem mainly of concern to the areas of New England and the Eastern US.  But what about improvements in air quality found in the West?  I believe the West needs some air-quality-cred too.  Especially my hometown, Libby Montana.  It’s a small logging community of about 2,000 people nestled into the extreme northwest corner of Montana, about 15 miles from Idaho and 30 miles from Canada.  Let me tell you why.
The 1990 amendments of the CAA required EPA to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment.  The EPA set standards for six principal pollutants (criteria pollutants) and then determined what areas (either counties or partial counties) of the US that did not meet these standards.  As you can tell by the map below, one small dot (other than the area around Los Angeles) in the whole western United States did not meet the particulate matter standard (PM-2.5).  Practically all the land west of the Mississippi was determined to have a low enough concentration of PM-2.5 except for Libby, MT.  Why?  Libby doesn’t have any “big cities”, power plants,  mining, or other industrial processes nearby; but it does have mountains and wood stoves.  Which in this case, added up to bad air pollution.  Libby sits in a valley surrounded by mountains and almost everybody uses a wood stove for their primary heat.  Older wood stoves create a lot of particulate matter, and those emissions just hung in the valley, especially during the winter months (9 months out of the year) when temperature inversion and light winds trapped the smoke.
PM-2.5 Nonattainment Areas (1997 Standard)
In order to meet the 1997 PM-2.5 standards, the State of Montana, with assistance from EPA, implemented a wood stove change-out program.  Where 1,130 old, uncertified woodstoves were replaced with EPA-certified stoves or pellet stoves.  Additional measures and regulations were also adopted to limit open burning and wood stove use on especially bad days.  After a few years of running these programs, I’m happy to report that the EPA has recently proposed to designate Libby as meeting the 1997 PM-2.5 standard.  (No more green dot!)
While I currently live in Washington, DC, I still manage to get back to my hometown to visit my folks at least once a year and have noticed a change in the air quality.  It’s better than when I was a kid.  And while having good air quality doesn’t necessarily improve my time opening Christmas presents in front of the wood stove, it certainly puts the cherry on top of the real reason that I make the ten hour trip back home — skiing Turner Mountain.  It’s awesome. There are never lift lines, always cheap tickets,  and the entire hill can be rented for practically the cost of an East Coast lift ticket.  Turner Mountain has 2110 vertical drop, plenty of powder, over 60% of the runs are black diamond, and a world famous t-bar burger.  And oh yeah, the view is amazing.   

Turner Monuntain, Montana

Turner Mountain, Montana


Travis Johnson is an engineer working in the Clean Air Markets Division of EPA. In addition to skiing, he enjoys spending his time huntin’, fishin’, wranglin’, steer wrestlin’, and all other things Montanian.



Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Fall days spent by a creek

2010 November 23

Growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia I was fortunate enough to have a small creek running behind my house. That creek offered countless hours of entertainment for me and the other kids on the block. We would spend warm fall days after school jumping from bank to bank, “fishing” using fallen twigs as fishing rods, and watching water striders skim the creek’s surface. 

I guess after spending so much time creekside it wasn’t surprising that I decided to study aquatic ecosystems in college. While studying, I was able to put my knowledge into practice at a college-affiliated nonprofit called ALLARM. ALLARM works to assess, protect, and restore waterways through citizen engagement. Student staffers like me would spend afternoons and weekends wading through streams and educating the public about their local waterways. Really not a bad job to have during college; sure beats some of the other part-time jobs offered to college students!

While hanging out in streams performing water chemistry and biological analyses, it was amazing to me to see how many community members were interested in the health of the streams and creeks in their backyards. People would volunteer their free time to better understand and improve the condition of their local waterways. Just like me, these creeks were the ones they had explored as children and the ones they hoped their future children and grandchildren would also get to enjoy.

Interestingly enough, my career path didn’t meander too far from those creeks, and I ended up at EPA assessing the ecological impacts of the Acid Rain Program (ARP) on the health of our nation’s waterways. The ARP was established under the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAA) to reduce emissions of acid rain forming pollutants from power plants. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the CAAA. In addition to the improvements in air quality and better health protection that have been achieved under the CAAA, we’ve also seen improvements in water quality. In fact, the overall emission reductions achieved by the ARP have resulted in improved environmental conditions and increased ecosystem protection in the areas that were once strongly impacted by acid rain including the Northeast and Mid-Appalachian region (Maryland, New York, West Virginia, Virginia, and most of Pennsylvania). For more detailed information on the improvements in surface water quality see our latest ARP progress report at

Now, years after my childhood days, I’m grateful that the CAAA were put in place to improve air quality, thereby protecting and restoring the health of the waterways that so many people enjoy. And even though most of my work days now are spent in an office instead of knee-high in a creek, I still enjoy spending beautiful fall weekends exploring the banks of local creeks with my husband and dog.

Colleen Mason is a Physical Scientist in EPA’s Clean Air Markets Division. Her favorite fall activities include hiking, camping, and of course wading into her local stream to perform some monitoring.

Stream monitoring as part of the Virginia Trout Stream Sensitivity Study  in 2010

Collecting water quality samples for the 2010 Virginia Trout Stream Sensitivity Study


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Our First Family Backpacking Trip

2010 November 16

My husband and I are avid outdoor adventurers and our love of backpacking, hiking, biking and rock climbing has taken us to some extraordinary places. As new parents, we’ve remained determined to get our fresh air fix, with the additional goal of exposing our son to the joy of the great outdoors. By the end of his second month, we had managed to take him camping and hiking and were ready to up the ante.

“Are we crazy?” I asked my husband as I tightened the shoulder straps on my backpack. “Yes,” he replied matter-of-factly as he finished tying his boots. Then we grinned at each other and laughed nervously as we looked down at our 3-month old son, Isaac, who was strapped to my chest in a carrier. I shook my head and pulled out my camera to document the moment. We were about to embark on our first backpacking trip as a new family. I was terrified.

My family (including 3-month old son, Isaac) at the start of our first family backpacking trip

My family (including 3-month old son, Isaac) at the start of our first family backpacking trip


The 2.5 mile hike to our campsite at the top of Annapolis Rocks, about an hour northwest of Washington, DC, was uneventful. We huffed and puffed and slowly made our way up the mountain as Isaac giggled and cooed at the trees. We set up camp and then headed over to the cliffs to eat dinner and catch the sunset. It was a cool, early-fall evening and the view across Cumberland Valley and Greenbriar Lake were surprisingly clear. The three of us had been to the top of the cliffs a few weeks earlier on a scouting mission and the view then was more typical of a hot, summer day along the East Coast: hazy and limited.

My family at the top of Black Rock, near Annapolis Rock

My family at the top of Black Rock, near Annapolis Rock


Visibility issues throughout the populated and industrialized East are particularly persistent.  The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, however, ushered in several new programs to help address the issue by reducing the amount of particulate matter emitted from a variety of sources. These programs include the Acid Rain Program, which reduced emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) from power plants; mobile source regulations that require new cars and trucks to use cleaner gas and to run on cleaner engines (e.g. the Tier 2 Vehicle and Gasoline Sulfur Program); and several programs that reduce pollutant emissions from stationary sources (e.g. the New Source Performance Standards Program which requires new plants to meet certain emission levels). In the past 20 years, these programs have done a lot to improve visibility and I could see the results of these efforts as my family took in the views from the top of the mountain.

In the distance, we could just see the blue-gray peaks of Massanutten Mountain at the northern edge of the Shenandoah Valley, over 70 miles away. It was a wonderful view and I was surprised that we could see that far. A few years earlier, I remember reading a sign at a scenic overlook along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park that hinted at what used to be–on a clear day you could look east from the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains and see the Washington Monument rising from the heart of Washington, DC, almost 100 miles away. If you’ve ever been to Shenandoah National Park, you know that such a view is the stuff of legend. Average visibility in the park in the summer is only 15-25 miles and on particularly hazy days, visibility plummets to barely 1 mile! People visit our National Parks to enjoy the scenic vistas and to discover landscapes that are the envy of people around the world. But, we have lost something intrinsic to the grand scale of America when we can only see one mile in our national parks and wilderness areas. The fact is that we’ve come a long way toward improving visibility in the East, but we still have quite a ways to go.

Our first backpacking trip with our son turned out to be a great success. We not only survived the night, but even managed to enjoy ourselves! Who knows if Isaac will end up loving this outdoor stuff as much as we do, but I can only hope that one day, if he takes his son or daughter to this place, that they’ll get to see the same clear view. And, if he and his family ever pull over to check out a scenic overlook in Shenandoah National Park, maybe they’ll even see the Washington Monument!

Goodnight sun
Goodnight sun


Erika Wilson works on communication issues in the Clean Air Markets Division. And despite the naysayers, still manages to enjoy all sorts of adventures with her husband and 6-month old son, Isaac.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Tully Council for the Arts Fall Fest

2010 November 9

By: Joe Ralbovsky, Intern with the Clean Air Markets Division

Each year, a sleepy town south of Syracuse, NY gets together to celebrate the arts, culture and changing of the seasons at the Annual Tully Fall Festival. Scheduled for Halloween weekend, the festival brings together people from all walks of life. Artists, dancers, story tellers, pastry chefs and trick-or-treaters all participate in the multitude of activities designed and run by Tully Council for the Arts.


Sign advertising the Great Tully Bake Off at the Fall Fest
Sign advertising the Great Tully Bake Off at the Fall Fest

Held at and around the local Elementary school, craft vendors and face painters call out to children and parents to sell decorations, food or a fresh coat of face paint. Hay-rides, pumpkin carving contests, art walks, bake-offs and musical performances fill the day’s itinerary as kids and adults partake in the many free and low cost activities. As a grand finale, dozens of dancers dressed as zombies (and one Michael Jackson) take to the Elementary school yard to perform an authentic rendition of ‘Thriller’ under the lights.

Quaint and localized as this Fall Fest might seem, town residents aren’t the only ones enjoying the celebration. Tully is known for its colorful fall foliage and each year, hundreds of out-of-towners flock to the valley community to observe, walk through or take pictures of the bright yellows, oranges and reds that bespangle the low lying mountains bordering the town. As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAA), it’s important to remember those aspects of fall that have been preserved, if not improved through the regulation of emissions under the CAAA.

Provisions within the CAAA have helped reduce acid-rain emissions over the past twenty years, contributing not only to a healthier bloom of fall foliage, but to better air and water quality throughout the Eastern United States as a whole.

This fall, as you admire a vibrant tree or drink in a scenic view, take a moment to think about the years of work, challenges and progress made by the individuals dedicated to eliminating acid rain and protecting both our vibrant landscapes and communities.

To learn more about the improved air and water quality under the Acid Rain Program, visit

For more information about Tully’s Fall Fest, visit


Joe Ralbovsky is a Syracuse University student spending this semester in DC. He’s interning with EPA’s CAMD and taking classes through SU. His favorite fall activities are eating and trick-or-treating.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Thank you 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, you have enhanced my autumn experiences on the back of an Appaloosa

2010 November 1
By Cindy Walke


This fall marks the 20th anniversary of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments and as an avid horsewoman, the anniversary highlights why autumn is still my favorite time of year.  I’m able to get out on the trails with my horse and enjoy all of the sights and smells that the fall season brings.  It’s not uncommon for us to encounter wild turkey, quail, deer, and various little critters scampering in the woods as my horse and I make our way through the wooded trails of the Liberty Watershed in Sykesville, Maryland.  It is truly an amazing sight to see!

When I’m out on the trails, I realize how fragile our ecosystems are.  The freshwater streams and trees provide the habitat that wildlife need in order to thrive.  My life has truly been enriched by these outdoor experiences and I cannot imagine how different they would be without the actions taken under the Clean Air Act.

Title IV of the Clean Air Act, also known as the Acid Rain Program, regulates SO2 and NOx emissions from power plants.  It’s these emissions that cause acid rain, which affects our ecosystems by making our lakes and streams acidic, harming fish populations, and slowing forest growth.  These emissions also contribute to health problems like premature mortality, cardiovascular issues and respiratory diseases like asthma and bronchitis.  The Acid Rain Program has reduced SO2 and NOx emissions and as a result, we can see improvements in our environment.

The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments also addressed toxic air pollutants and urban pollution, established tighter pollution standards for cars and trucks, helped eliminate ozone depleting substances and much more.

In the coming weeks, my colleagues and I will be sharing our personal stories about the outdoor activities we enjoy and how the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments have helped improve our environment, making our favorite activities possible.  Please follow our discussion series on Greenversations, and contribute your own stories about how the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments have improved your enjoyment of your favorite outdoor activities.

About the author: Cindy Walke is the website manager for the Clean Air Markets Division.  One of her favorite fall activities is horseback riding along the beautiful trails of Central Maryland.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

The Future of the Acid Rain Program

2010 April 29

In 1980, as an intern with the House Natural Resources Committee, I spent hours summarizing legislative proposals to address acid rain, an issue captivating public consciousness. Thirty years later, I can see the great progress we’ve made and, along with hard-working EPA staff, I’m pleased to spread the word about that progress.

On April 8, we launched the 20th Anniversary Acid Rain Program Discussion Forum to talk about what we’ve been doing to address acid rain over the past 20 years and to create a space for open dialogue on this issue. I encourage everyone to check out the discussion forum posts to learn about the large emission reductions and high compliance rates we’ve seen under the program. You’ll also find information about improvements in air quality and human health, recovering ecosystems, and improved visibility in our parks…

To finish reading this post check out EPA’s Greenversations Blog here.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Data on Demand

2010 April 28

These days there is an abundance of information at our fingertips. Between blogs, wikis, social media tools, and the variety of applications currently available to us, we not only expect to access data instantly, but we want that information to be personalized to our needs and interests. In the age of “on demand” data, we at EPA have developed several online resources that help the general public, like you, access and understand the data that we collect as part of the Acid Rain Program.

Data can be a very powerful and useful tool to stakeholders and the public. We provide data from all of the monitoring programs associated with the Acid Rain Program on the Clean Air Market Division’s webpage. Having the data available to everyone is great, but sometimes numbers don’t mean much on paper. So, we’ve taken that useful data and repackaged it into a couple of different formats that make it easier to understand.

Interactive Mapping

On our interactive mapping page we took the emissions, air quality, and surface water monitoring data and plotted them on a map so you can explore the data in a new way. Using our interactive three-dimensional mapping features, anyone can see where power plants in the Acid Rain Program are located across the U.S. You can even zoom to your neighborhood, find the closest power plant and see how its emissions have changed over time.

Interactive map of emissions

Quarterly Tracking

Another cool data tool is the quarterly tracking page. This page has the most recent emissions data at all of the coal-fired power plants affected by the Acid Rain Program. For all you visual learners out there, this page uses motion charts to display trends in data over time. This motion chart shows changes in emissions over time. If you’re having trouble understanding these motion charts, you can always click and watch our motion chart video tutorial.

Motion chart

So, be our guest and click around our site. Do some personalized searches on our interactive maps to check out the data for the power plant closest to where you live. Then share your experience and tell us ways that you think people can use our data. We’d love to hear from you!

Colleen Mason is a Physical Scientist with the EPA’s Clean Air Markets Division. She works on assessing and communicating the results of the Acid Rain Program and other market-based programs.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.