By Jeffery Robichaud
About six months ago I brought you the first installment of a series about Environmental Regulations – an article about the Endangered Species Act (ESA). My intention was to circle through several of our Nation’s environmental laws. Shawn Henderson helped me out in May with another Acronym Soup post about the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Unfortunately, the summer proved busier than I expected, but I’m here to Clear the Air (pun intended).
We really think of the modern Clean Air Act (CAA) as dating back to 1970 the same year as the birth of the Agency itself, even though there was CAA seven years earlier in 1963 which focused mostly on research. The CAA shifted the nation’s approach to addressing air pollution by authorizing the development of comprehensive federal and state regulations to limit emissions from both industrial and mobile sources of air pollution. The CAA begot four major programs all with their own now familiar acronyms: the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), State Implementation Plans (SIPs), New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs). You can read about each of these programs and subsequent amendments to the CAA here or check out the Plain English Guide to the Clean Air Act by clicking on the cover image to the right.
We previously shared information about the AirNow website and AirData both which are great resources to visit to find out information about the quality of air in your neighborhood. There are some pretty powerful analytical tools on AirData which even allow you to graphically display daily air quality over the course of a year in the metropolitan area of interest to you. Below I pulled up a graph of PM10 and Ozone (2 criteria pollutants under the CAA) in the Omaha/Council Bluffs area for 2012. You can see how ozone becomes more problematic as the summer begins, while PM 10 is fairly consistent throughout the year.
For the geospatial enthusiasts among you, it is possible to download csv files of all of the air monitoring stations across the country at the bottom of this page. You can download the data for each site of interest through the mapping application on the same page, or return to AirData and click on the download data button to download multiple sites within a state or metropolitan area.
Unlike the days prior to the establishment of the Clean Air Act, air pollution today is often difficult to see. These new tools should help you to see what is going on across the country and outside your window.
Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division. He has successfully transitioned mowing duties to his oldest son, who now receives the strange stares from passers-by who gawk at the family’s electric mower, purchased several years ago to help air quality in the Kansas City area.