Environment: Proposed new ozone standards seen as challenge for regulators

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A snapshot of ozone conditions in early June 2015.

Scientists say more monitoring will be crucial for regulators

Staff Report

FRISCO — Proposed new standards for harmful ozone pollution could present a big challenge for air quality managers at the state and local level. More monitoring is needed to help tell apart local sources from ozone that’s generated elsewhere, Boulder-based scientists wrote last week in Science.

Last November, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed lowering the primary ozone standard from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 or 65 ppb, based on ozone’s known effects on children, the elderly, and people who have lung diseases such as asthma. A decision by the EPA Administrator is expected in October 2015. Continue reading

Climate: When good ozone goes bad

Western U.S. Counties Violating Current and Proposed Ozone Air Quality Standards.

Western U.S. counties violating current and proposed ozone air quality standards. Map courtesy Jeremy Nichols/ClimateWest blog.

La Niña weather pattern found to contribute to spikes in western ozone levels

Staff Report

FRISCO — Spring ozone formation in parts of the western U.S. appear to be linked with the hemispheric La Niña weather pattern, when the path of the jet stream forces high altitude ozone down to ground level.

After discovering the link, a team of researchers say their findings may help forecast harmful ozone episodes well in advance, which could have implications for attaining the national ozone standard. Continue reading

Fracking: New aerial research to track pollutants above western fossil fuel development zones

Sensitive instruments to track methane, VOCs and other airborne toxins from New Mexico to North Dakota

The Four Corners area (red) is the major U.S. hot spot for methane emissions in this map showing how much emissions varied from average background concentrations from 2003-2009 (dark colors are lower than average; lighter colors are higher). Image Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Michigan.

The Four Corners area (red) is the major U.S. hot spot for methane emissions in this map showing how much emissions varied from average background concentrations from 2003-2009 (dark colors are lower than average; lighter colors are higher). Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Michigan.

Staff Report

FRISCO — A recent study of satellite data showing a hotspot of potent heat-trapping methane pollution over the Four Corners region makes it clear that we’re digging an ever-deeper global warming hole by fracking every last corner of the country.

As NOAA put it, “Vast regions west of the Mississippi River are under development for oil and gas extraction … but while one focus is on what comes out of the ground, NOAA and Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences researchers and their colleagues are studying what escapes to the air—and how it is transformed in the atmosphere and affects air quality and climate.

Scientists hope to learn much more about the massive quantities of pollution escaping from fossil fuel development areas in the next few months as they launch this year’s  Shale Oil and Natural Gas Nexus (SONGNEX 2015) field campaign, using airborne instruments to measure greenhouse gases and other toxic emissions.

Continue reading

Environment: EPA proposes new life-saving ozone standards

A NASA satellite image shows air pollution along the East Coast and over the Atlantic.

A NASA satellite image shows air pollution along the East Coast and over the Atlantic.

New rule would more than pay for itself in health care savings

Staff Report

FRISCO — As more and more studies show the harmful health effects of smog, or ground-level ozone, the EPA wants to set new standards to help clean up the air.

Last week the agency unveiled its proposal to lower the standard from 75 parts per billion to as low as 60 ppb, pending completion of a review and comment period, including public hearings.

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to review the standards every five years by following a set of open, transparent steps and considering the advice of a panel of independent experts. EPA last updated these standards in 2008, setting them at 75 ppb. Continue reading

Climate: Ozone problems ahead?

Ozone damage on the leaf of a cutleaf coneflower manifests in the form of black stipules. Photo courtesy RMNP.

Ozone damage on the leaf of a cutleaf coneflower manifests in the form of black stipules. Photo courtesy RMNP.

New study projects mid-century air quality under various global warming scenarios

Staff Report

FRISCO — Even with ongoing efforts to improve air quality, global warming could drive ozone levels high enough to cause widespread damage to plants by mid-century, according to a new study that focused on the U.S. but also considered global air quality.

“Modelling future air quality is very complex, because so many factors need to be taken into account at both a global and local scale,” said Dr. Val Martin, of the University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Engineering. Continue reading

Environment: Federal appeals court focusing on toxic ozone smog in Utah’s Uinta Basin

EPA challenged on decision to designate polluted region as unclassifiable

Western U.S. Counties Violating Current and Proposed Ozone Air Quality Standards.

Western U.S. Counties Violating Current and Proposed Ozone Air Quality Standards. Map courtesy Jeremy Nichols/ClimateWest blog.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Environmental advocates and the EPA are facing off in a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. today over air quality in Utah’s remote Uinta Basin, where ozone levels often exceed standards set to protect human health.

In a weird twist to the case, the fossil fuel industry is claiming that its own air pollution data is of poor quality and unreliable, and shouldn’t be used by the EPA to designate the Uinta Basin as a nonattainment area, despite the fact that the area regularly sees some of the highest ozone pollution levels in the country.

At issue in the oral arguments is the EPA’s refusal to designate the Uinta Basin as a nonattainment area despite monitoring showing serious air quality degradation in northeastern Utah. The EPA’s decision to designate the area as unclassifiable is a clear violation of the Clean Air Act, according to WildEarth Guardians, one of the groups involved in the case. Continue reading

Winter ozone formation in Utah linked with atmospheric inversions and persistent snow cover

Oil and gas drillers must to more to protect the airsheds they operate in.

Oil and gas drillers must to more to protect the airsheds they operate in.

Air quality worsening in rural areas affected by fracking

Staff Report

FRISCO — Dangerously high levels of winter ozone pollution in parts of Utah can be traced directly to chemicals released into the air by oil and gas exploration. The volatile organic compounds, common byproducts of fossil fuel exploitation, get trapped under atmospheric inversion layers and sunlight reflected by snow sparks the chemical process that forms the corrosive gas.

For example, in 2013, ozone in Ouray, Utah, exceeded the national air quality standards 49 times during the winter season. By contrast, in the densely populated, urban area of Riverside, California, the standards were exceeded about half that amount that same year, but during the summer. Continue reading

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