Organization creates air pollution “budget”

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(Host) Some state officials were relieved when the Environmental Protection Agency announced new limits for ozone pollution. Vermont was still below the limits and avoided federal sanctions.

But, as VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, one agency is trying to prepare for the day when the standards change again and Vermont doesn’t meet them.

(traffic sound)

(Sneyd) Pollution has a very distinctive sound in Vermont.

Half of the ozone that dirties our skies starts out with cars and trucks.

As bad as the tailpipe emissions might smell if you hang out too long at a busy South Burlington intersection like this one, Vermont’s air still qualifies as clean under federal regulations.

But Scott Johnstone of the Chittenden County Metropolitan Planning Organization says it probably won’t stay that way.

(Johnstone) "So we think it’s in our interest to make sure we don’t fall out of attainment with that air quality standard for whole host of reasons, health being the primary one but the economic and regulatory consequences of falling out of attainment are enormous when you go into that process.”

(Sneyd) What are some of those consequences for states or counties that fall out of compliance with the standards – or “out of attainment,” in the EPA’s lingo?

New development could come to a halt while state officials develop a "budget” of the pollution already in the region. That budget would be used by the EPA to determine whether proposed development would make pollution worse.

(Johnstone) "For that three-to-five-year window, it can become very difficult to advance any kind economic initiative of any consequence. That’s what we want to avoid. In addition to improving the health care quality of the air, we want to be sure we’re prepared if we were to fall out, to address it quickly.”

(Sneyd) So Johnstone’s agency is taking an unusual step. It’s already building that pollution "budget” for Chittenden County. And at the same time, it’s writing a plan for reducing it.

Bryan Davis in Johnstone’s office is trying to develop programs in the Burlington area that can be used elsewhere around the state.

(Davis) "The ways that the MPO can help other areas of the state is creating programs such as the Way to Go Commuter Challenge, which has grown over the past three years, and other areas of the state are showing interest in this.”

(Sneyd) That’s a weeklong effort that offers prizes and other incentives to people who find cleaner ways of getting to work. He also wants to promote car-sharing services, car-pooling, bicycling, walking.

State officials are encouraging the planning that’s beginning in Chittenden County. Gina Campoli is with the Transportation Agency.

(Campoli) "If, through their data collection we learn there is a way to collect this information that can be applied elsewhere in the state, then great. They’re going to be in the forefront as far as the vehicle modeling and the connection with air quality.”

(Sneyd) The Natural Resources Agency says there could be a lot more benefits to the effort. If successful, less benzene and less carbon would be spewed into the atmosphere. And that would make it easier for us all to breathe.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

AP Photo/Toby Talbot

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