When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced their new ground level ozone attainment standards earlier this month, newspapers in many parts of the country feared that the new ruling would result in job losses and economic decline in their area. Fortunately, our Upstate media did not have to raise the same concerns.
Because of long-term collaboration amongst local governments, industries and organizations in the Upstate, we should not be subject to the potential negative impacts of the new standards. Instead, Upstate residents can be pleased to know that local ozone levels are at historic lows at a time when economic growth is robust.
Based on monitoring results through the 2014 ozone season, the Upstate region would be in compliance with the new standards. The highest testing monitor in the region had a level of 66 parts per billion (ppb) with the standards moving from 75 to 70 ppb.
Those results are quite a contrast from the ground level ozone recorded just 15 years ago when the Upstate first was threatened with non-attainment designation.
The ozone levels in the Upstate have declined from 95 ppb in 2000 to 83 ppb in 2006 and 73 ppb in 2011 to the current levels. Though the final 2015 monitor numbers are not yet available, the region had only one Ozone Alert Day during a hot summer.
This is good news for many reasons.
First and foremost, it means that Upstate residents are breathing cleaner air, which is a primary objectives of the Clean Air Act.
According to the American Lung Association (ALA), there are roughly 25,000 cases of Pediatric Asthma and 80,000 cases of Adult Asthma in the Upstate. Reductions in ozone and other air pollutants will hopefully have a positive impact on the health of Upstate residents who are at risk from dirty air.
Because industries within communities that do not meet EPA air quality standards are subject to greater regulation (usually at significant expense), an unintended consequence for non-attainment areas is often a reduction in jobs and economic growth. Birmingham, Alabama is just one example of a community whose manufacturing economy was significantly impacted by being designated in non-attainment.
Here is the Upstate, we are showing that you can have economic growth and clean air at the same time. Since 2010, the Upstate region has added more than $10 billion in new capital investment.
According to John Lummus, CEO of the Upstate SC Alliance, “The Upstate has proven that you can have a strong manufacturing culture while also supporting clean air and a healthy environment. Companies like BMW, GE, Michelin and many more have actively worked to reduce their ozone forming emissions while increasing capacity and bringing additional jobs and capital investments to the Upstate.”
While federal tailpipe standards, the decline of coal fired power plants and other regulations have played a role in the dramatic decline in ozone levels in the Upstate, also deserving credit are the local leaders who have been working together to reduce emission levels for more than a decade, primarily through voluntary initiatives.
Anderson, Greenville and Spartanburg counties first partnered in the EPA Early Action Compact process in 2002 and were soon joined by other Upstate counties along with public, private and non-profit organizations, businesses and industries. This regional effort led to the Upstate remaining within compliance of the standards at that time and set the foundation for the decline in ozone emissions that has continued.
In 2013, the Upstate Air Quality Advisory Committee, which includes representatives from local governments, private businesses and non-profit organizations from across the region, started the Clean Air Upstate awareness and education campaign. The program has included emission reduction efforts and a public awareness campaign of “Clean Air Tips” that anyone can do to reduce emissions.
The combination of local and regional actions illustrates that being pro-active and working collaboratively can create a positive result.
Moving forward, because the danger of non-attainment seems to have subsided it might be tempting to sit back and not continue to aggressively work to further reduce emission levels here in the region.
It is my hope and expectation that the Upstate will not fall into that trap and instead work to make the air in the region even cleaner, ultimately reducing the Asthma rate below the current 7.5%.
Through local and regional efforts we can continue to improve air quality in the Upstate, thus supporting both public health and economic vibrancy.
Check out CleanAirUpstate.org to see how you can help make a difference.
Dean Hybl is Executive Director of Ten at the Top, which coordinates the Upstate Air Quality Advisory Committee.