Fortunately, the air quality in the Tri-Cities has improved since the smoke from burning forests in Canada wafted south a couple weeks ago, creating a toxic canopy over our community and much of the Northwest.
The timing was somewhat remarkable.
During the same week Tri-Citians were encouraged to stay indoors to avoid the unhealthy air, at least 15 states — including Washington and Oregon — filed a lawsuit over EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision to delay new, tighter clean-air standards across the country.
It was almost as if Mother Nature gave us dirty, hazy skies as a reminder of what could happen if we are not determined to reduce smog-causing pollutants.
As it happened, Pruitt reversed his stance a day after the suit was filed against the Environmental Protection Agency. The Associated Press reported he made no mention of the state coalition’s legal challenge when he announced his about-face on the issue.
Instead, he said he would now work “with states through the complex designation process,” according to the AP.
That sounds like a more judicious approach.
The matter in question is an Oct. 1 deadline for states to start meeting new limits for ground-level ozone that were set during the Obama administration.
Ground-level ozone is produced when pollutants from cars, oil refineries and other fossil-fuel industries are emitted in the air and react to sunlight.
The Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards set by the EPA in 2015 limit the amount of ground-level ozone from 75 parts per billion to 70 parts per billion.
That threshold was based on studies used by the EPA. Evidently, research shows pollutant levels higher than 70 parts per billion can be harmful to healthy adults exercising outdoors, as well as to children whose lungs are still developing.
State governments have since been working on ways to implement the new guideline.
Last March, however, Pruitt abruptly ordered the EPA to halt that process.
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson wrote to Pruitt pledging legal action because he believed the stop was in violation of the Clean Air Act. In the letter, Ferguson said the EPA had no lawful basis for the action and “terminated the process without notice or opportunity for comment,” according to a news release posted from his office.
The AG posting also said, “Every day the EPA delays guidelines for oil and gas facilities, the more risk there is that they will continue releasing dangerous pollutants into the atmosphere.”
We understand the burden that carbon-emission restrictions can have on established fossil-fuel burning industries, and in the past have pushed for reasonable ways to reach clean air goals.
While there have been proposed strategies that we disagreed with — a carbon emissions tax initiative being one of them — we have always acknowledged the importance of reducing air pollution.
The stretch of smoky air we recently experienced provided a chance to remember why in 1970 Congress approved the Clean Air Act in the first place.
No one wants to go back to the days where there were no emissions regulations and smog covered our major cities and caused a haze over our blue skies.