Air Pollution

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin Wants Break from Ozone Rules in Advance of Foxconn Development

Wisconsin Wants Break from Trump Administration on Ozone Rules in Advance of Foxconn Development
By Lee Bergquist

Despite evidence that southeast Wisconsin is violating new and tougher emissions standards for smog, state officials are asking the Trump administration to set aside a recent federal finding and conclude the state is complying with the law.

Falling short of that, the state Department of Natural Resources is recommending federal officials carve out narrow strips of land of a few miles along the Lake Michigan shoreline as violating the new standard for ozone pollution and declare the rest of the state in compliance.

The state’s request to the U.S. Environmental Protection would weaken the impact of stricter regulations on factories and other large sources of air pollution — including Racine County where Foxconn Technology Group is planning to build a giant manufacturing campus.

To justify their request, DNR officials are arguing that meteorological and air emissions data show that Illinois and Indiana are primarily responsible for pollution that blows north along the lake and creates smog.

But environmental groups say the claim ignores Wisconsin’s own contribution of ozone pollution.

If the Trump administration sides with Gov. Scott Walker and other state officials, it could benefit Foxconn and comes after Wisconsin promised environmental exemptions for the company as part of a state and local financial incentive package totaling $4 billion.

Regardless of the outcome, motorists in southeastern Wisconsin will still be required to buy reformulated gasoline, said Gail Good, director of air management for the DNR. Reformulated gas, which is more expensive, has been sold in the Milwaukee area since 1995 and is a tool regulators use to reduce smog.

Ozone is a summer pollutant and is created when heat and light interact with nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. The pollutants come from sources such as factories, power plants and emissions from cars and trucks.

Depending on how the EPA responds, the outcome could have far-reaching health and economic impacts for counties stretching from Kenosha to Door. An EPA spokeswoman said the agency is evaluating Wisconsin’s proposal.

Higher levels of ground-level ozone can lead to reduced lung function for people working and exercising outdoors or those with respiratory problems like asthma. The stricter regulations would help to lower ozone levels in the region and were advanced after a five-year scientific review.

If the EPA declares all or parts of nine Wisconsin counties as violating the stricter ozone standard, factories could face higher costs, especially new or expanding plants that would be required to purchase top-of-the-line pollution controls regardless of cost and make other changes to their operations.

“EPA’s intended designations threaten Wisconsin’s economic engine and could result in severe and unnecessary economic consequences,” DNR Secretary Daniel L. Meyer said in a letter to the EPA on Feb. 28.

The ozone rules have taken on a political dynamic because of the potential impact on Foxconn and future development near the plant and because the rules were advanced in 2015 under the Obama administration.

Wisconsin and other like-minded states filed a lawsuit against the rules in 2016, arguing the stiffer ozone limits failed to take pollution into account that was outside a state’s control.

Also, an EPA spokeswoman said Regional Administrator Cathy Stepp recently recused herself in the Wisconsin request. Stepp had advocated against the Obama rules as Wisconsin DNR secretary.

President Donald Trump attended the announcement in Washington, D.C., that Foxconn had chosen Wisconsin for its plant.

Foxconn is building a $10 billion plant to produce liquid crystal display panels. The plant could employ as many as 13,000 people.

In a statement, Foxconn said it is monitoring the situation. Foxconn said it supports the DNR’s recommendation, adding that it is “grounded in science, and supports Wisconsin’s economic goals while effectively meeting air quality requirements.

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Chicago Tribune: ELPC Among Groups Testing Citizen Devices to Track Chicago’s Pollution Hot Spots

Citizen devices tracking Chicago’s pollution hot spots

November 11, 2017
By Michael Hawthorne

With an array of palm-size devices strapped across her chest and connected wirelessly to her smartphone, Gail Merritt discovered the air in the South Loop might be a lot dirtier than expected.

Merritt and her group of volunteer pollution hunters had assumed the low-cost sensors they carried during daily walks would confirm their fast-growing neighborhood had relatively decent air quality, at least when compared with the gritty industrial corridors in other parts of Chicago.

Color-coded graphs that popped up on Merritt’s screen during an unseasonably warm October afternoon told a more complicated story. Something as common as a CTA bus or city garbage truck passing by caused the amount of lung-damaging particulate matter in the air to temporarily jump off the charts.

Just as concerning were spikes of pollution that turned up when the group reviewed data from a different air monitor stationed for three weeks in Dearborn Park, a quiet, tree-lined square framed by high-rise condominiums.

The volunteers now are eagerly awaiting a review of their handiwork by scientists who oversaw air monitoring in the South Loop and three other Chicago neighborhoods during the past six months. Funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the project is part of a broader nationwide effort to use rapidly developing technology to give people easy-to-access information about pollution they breathe during their daily routines.

“We came into this thinking we would be a control group they could use to compare to other neighborhoods with environmental justice issues,” said Merritt, a management consultant who leads the Alliance for a Greener South Loop. “Given all of the vehicle and train traffic around us, it looks like we have our own pollution problems.”

Breathing even small amounts of particulate matter, commonly known as soot, can inflame the lungs and trigger asthma attacks. Long-term exposure can cause heart disease, increase the risk of developing cancer and shave years off a person’s life.

Unlike the thick clouds of pollution that choked cities during the past century, the soot particles that concern public health researchers today are so small that thousands could fit on the period at the end of this sentence.

Since the amount of vehicle exhaust and factory pollution can vary widely within neighborhoods and at different times of day, the new wave of portable and stationary sensors can find pockets of dirty air that go unnoticed by authorities.

Intrigued by the potential of using personal technology to track the invisible-but-deadly pollution, the EPA began awarding scientific grants during the Obama administration to determine if relatively inexpensive sensors developed by tech startups and hobbyists could supplement a network of official monitors.

Regulators already measure soot at 17 sites in the Chicago area, and other monitors collect snapshots of data on smog, heavy metals and volatile chemicals to assess air quality across the entire region. But the bulky, expensive equipment isn’t mobile and the testing is designed to give a glimpse of the entire region, not identify hot spots. The closest soot monitor to the South Loop is more than 5 miles away.

Nobody thinks the new technology is reliable enough yet to be used in court or a regulatory proceeding. Rather, researchers and career staff at the EPA see it as a tool for citizens to conduct their own experiments and draw attention to pollution problems that otherwise might not be addressed, especially as President Donald Trump pushes to dramatically cut funding for federal and state environmental programs.

In addition to Merritt’s group, activists from Altgeld Gardens, Little Village and the East Side neighborhood are testing the reliability and ease of use of a half-dozen sensors, including devices small enough to fit on the straps of a backpack, one that looks like a throwback from the original “Star Trek” television series and another the size of a 16-inch softball.

Meanwhile, Serap Erdal, a University of Illinois at Chicago researcher who advises the groups, is testing all the devices next to an EPA monitor in Northbrook to determine how close the readings are to the regulatory gold standard.

Before fanning out again to see if the low-cost devices can endure a Chicago winter, some of the volunteers gathered last month at the nonprofit Delta Institute to share what worked and what went wrong during their summer and fall testing runs.

They reported the instructions and software for some of the devices were too confusing. One had a sensitive power button that would cause users to inadvertently turn off the devices. Another was knocked offline by a spider web.

“Doing good, low-cost sensor work is deceptively challenging,” said Scott Fruin, a University of Southern California researcher who studies air pollution but isn’t involved in the Chicago project. “Many of the sensors are not up to the task.”

Some of the volunteers chafed at filling out paperwork vital to helping their scientific advisers determine if spikes of pollution detected during their testing runs are meaningful or were merely the result of a sensor malfunction. Yet organizers said people of all ages are excited to keep going, driven by the idea they could someday figure out themselves if their suspicions about neighborhood air quality are valid.

Community leaders say the technology also gives them new opportunities to expand their networks and engage with neighbors reluctant to get involved.

“It really seems like we’re entering a new renaissance in the environmental movement,” said Sammy Corona, a volunteer with the Southeast Environmental Task Force who excitedly told the Delta Institute group about a recent conference that highlighted an elaborate network of air monitors in Southern California.

“When I got back,” Corona said, “I realized we are still in the Dark Ages in Chicago.”

The neighborhood experiments are just one example of how the nation’s third-largest city is catching up.

Researchers at the Urban Center for Computation and Data, an initiative by the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory, have developed equipment that is being posted on light poles around the city to provide granular details about air quality, traffic, sound volume and temperature.

After working out glitches with the electronics and redesigning protective enclosures for the devices, dubbed the Array of Things, the scientists are planning to have 500 monitors up and running by the end of next year.

Charlie Catlett, a data scientist who directs the project, said the goal is to provide researchers and the public with new kinds of data that can be used to improve quality of life. The latest version of the monitors is designed to make it easier to add new technology as the field improves and expands.

Catlett’s project echoes a long-running study by the New York City Department of Health. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration relied on borough-by-borough maps of data from pole-mounted sensors in an effort to stop landlords from using sooty fuel oil to heat apartment buildings and switch to cleaner-burning natural gas.

In 2010, the Tribune used a handheld sensor to test air quality on Metra commuter trains and inside stations that more than a quarter of a million people pass through every weekday. The newspaper found spikes of noxious diesel soot inside passenger cars after the doors closed on outbound trains and locomotive exhaust was sucked into ventilation systems.

Metra responded by installing more effective filters that improved air quality inside the cars. But commuters still routinely complain about hazy clouds of diesel pollution inside Union Station and Ogilvie Transportation Center.

Another early adopter of personal air testing devices is the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Chicago-based nonprofit that loaned Walkman-size sensors to students, neighborhood groups and others between May and October to measure soot in 35 of the city’s 77 community areas.

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Chicago Tribune: ELPC’s Learner Supports IL Pollution Lawsuit Against VW, Says Everyone is Harmed

The Chicago Tribune

Illinois forcing Volkswagen to clean up its act

Nov. 14, 2016
By Robert Reed

Even those who never owned a Volkswagen car could benefit from the beleaguered company’s desperate need to make “dieselgate,” a moniker for its massive auto emissions scandal, fade in the rearview mirror.

But that’s not going to happen until the German automaker makes peace with Illinois and a bunch of other ticked-off states suing the company for allegedly fouling the environment.

Some may see these lawsuits as blatantly trying to squeeze extra cash from a staggering Volkswagen, which admitted using software designed to cheat on emissions testing. I’d disagree, mainly because no automaker, or company for that matter, should go unchallenged for allegedly violating a bedrock environmental law in such an admittedly blatant manner. It’s not fair to the public or to other businesses that must follow the rules.

This week, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan smacked Volkswagen with a lawsuit claiming the automaker violated the state’s pollution protection rules. Madigan’s office wants the company to pay some form of damages, as do 11 other states also suing Volkswagen on similar grounds.

The legal fallout is linked to the company’s admission last year that about 500,000 of its VWs and Audis with 2-liter, four-cylinder diesel engines were programmed to cheat on government emissions tests. Since then, Volkswagen’s focus has been on making amends with its disgusted car buyers, settling with irate consumer fraud regulators and quelling the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Now the saga is entering a new chapter: Volkswagen is dealing with states saying the very air their communities breathe was compromised by the emissions-rigging scheme.

“Not only were consumers harmed by buying cars that were less than advertised; the public as a whole has suffered because there’s more pollution,” says Howard Learner , executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a Chicago-based watchdog and advocacy group.

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Daily Herald: ELPC’s Learner Says We Need President Who Will Reduce Air Pollution

Daily HeraldWhere Trump, Clinton Stand on the Environment

November 5, 2016
By Marni Pyke

Despite headlines about lead in Michigan drinking water, the environment hasn’t made much noise in the presidential race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump and that’s unfortunate, local experts think.

Chicago and the suburbs need a president who will reduce air pollution, said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

“Air quality is getting better but we have a way to go because pollution doesn’t just stay within municipal boundaries,” he said.

Collins, an environmental attorney from Naperville, said aging pipes are a source of water pollution in the region.

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ABC 7 News: Learner says Chicago Vehicle Emission Testing Site Closures Make No Sense

ABC 7 Eyewitness News

Chicago Now Left Without Any Emissions Testing Facilities
By Evelyn Holmes

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

CHICAGO (WLS) — Many Chicago drivers are being inconvenienced by the closing of the last two Illinois emissions testing facilities in Chicago.

Tuesday was the first day that car owners in the city have to travel to the suburbs for the test.

Aida Oqunido found out the hard way – that the vehicle emissions testing center is now closed for good.

“It’s not right. We have to go a long way to find another one,” she said.

The location is one of four vehicle emissions testing facilities shuttered by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to save millions by cutting costs by using a private contractor to run the testing program.

“I think (there) should be at least one location in the city,” said Michael Weissbluth.

The Webster Avenue facility and Forest Preserve Drive locations were the last two testing facilities in the city, leaving Chicago drivers without a city testing station.

WATCH NEWS CLIP:

 

Chicago Tonight: ELPC’s Learner says Chicago shutdown of vehicle emissions testing sites “defies common sense”

Chicago Tonight

EPA to Shut Down 2 Chicago Vehicle Emissions Test Facilities
By Reuben Unrau

October 21, 2016

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency will close two vehicle emissions testing facilities in Chicago, leaving motorists without a single testing center within city limits starting Nov. 1.

The decision, announced by the agency Wednesday, comes as a result of a new testing contract that aims to cut costs.

Test sites at 1850 W. Webster Ave. in Bucktown and 6959 W. Forest Preserve Drive in Harwood Heights will shutter by the end of the month. The EPA also announced the closure of suburban facilities in Elk Grove Village and Tinley Park.

Kim Biggs, a spokeswoman for the Illinois EPA, says motorists will not have to travel more than 12 miles to reach a testing station, which is required by state statute. In a press release, the EPA says Chicago-area drivers will have to commute an additional four miles, on average, starting in November.

“Motorists may have a different drive, but this new contract will provide significant cost savings in Illinois,” Biggs said.

The contract will save Illinois taxpayers around $11 million per year and an estimated $100 million over the next 10 years, according to the Illinois EPA. The move also includes measures that are designed to increase efficiency: Testing centers will have extended hours on Saturdays and each location (with the exception of the site in Schaumburg) will be equipped with high-capacity, two-lane facilities to help accommodate the expected increase in demand. Motorists will also be able to request extensions or exemptions from the testing requirement online.

Despite the savings, opponents fear the Chicago closures will create a burden on motorists in the state’s largest city. Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, says the decision is “tone deaf and defies common sense.”

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Litigation Victory! Federal Court Finds that Dynegy’s Edwards Coal Plant Violates Law on Particulate Pollution and Opacity

Victory! ELPC and our partners won a major victory as Federal District Court Judge McDade just issued a very favorable decision granting us summary judgment in our lawsuit challenging excessive particulate emissions, which exacerbate respiratory problems, from the old Edwards coal plant near Peoria, IL. The Court’s opinion holds that a Dynegy subsidiary, the plant owner, violated the Edwards coal plant’s operating permit thousands of times over seven years – emitting an illegal amount of harmful soot pollution.

ELPC attorneys Jenny Cassel and Justin Vickers represent client plaintiffs Respiratory Health Association and Sierra Club, and we are working with co-plaintiff Natural Resources Defense Council. Together, we alleged that the Edwards coal plant was not properly controlling soot pollution – also known as “particulate matter,” which is associated with asthma, decreased lung function, and other respiratory problems.

This important legal victory reinforces the ability of environmental advocacy organizations to bring and win citizen enforcement lawsuits against polluters, even when state agencies do not enforce the permits they issue. It’s time for Dynegy to recognize that if it is going to continue to operate the Edwards plant, it must follow the law by installing sufficient modern pollution control equipment.

Going forward, the case will shift to a “remedy” phase for the Judge to determine what steps Dynegy must take to reduce pollution and comply with its permit, as well as what penalties should be paid for violations.

Kudos to ELPC attorneys Jenny Cassel and Justin Vickers and our partners who all worked hard on this case. This court decision will reduce pollution and set a precedent for environmental enforcement lawsuits brought in the public interest.

Daily Herald: ELPC’s Learner Warns of Impact of Budget Impasse on Clean Air and Public Health

Could the state’s budget chaos increase air pollution?

It’s not a stretch, environmental experts say, given that drivers aren’t receiving reminders in the mail about vehicle emissions tests and won’t be penalized for skipping checkups starting Tuesday.

And without a stick to force everyone to get their cars tested, lungs breathing air tainted by thousands of vehicles emitting smog could be the next collateral damage from feuding between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic lawmakers.

“There’s a reason for inspections and maintenance requirements — they’re a fundamental building block of the Clean Air Act,” Environmental Law and Policy Center Executive Director Howard Learner said. “Illinois should and must comply with the Clean Air Act because it’s important to protect public health.”

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Public News Service: Measuring Chicago’s Diesel Pollution Problem

CHICAGO – Trying to get a handle on how much diesel pollution is being pumped into the air by Chicago’s cars, trains and trucks is serious work.

Over the past few months, an air monitor has been set up in popular public places, including the Shedd Aquarium and in Chicago neighborhoods such as Pilsen, which until a few years ago was home to one of the dirtiest coal power plants in the country.

Susan Mudd, senior policy advocate with the Environmental Law and Policy Center, says the focus has moved from coal to diesel pollution to help assess the risk. “Diesel pollution is very dangerous for people’s health,” she states. “It is linked with asthma, COPD – it’s even linked with some cancers.”

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WGN: The Wintrust Business Lunch: Frank Sennett, Robert Perrin, and Susan Mudd

Amy Guth fills-in for Steve this week and kicks it off by bringing you this packed episode of the Wintrust Business Lunch. First, Amy talks to Frank Sennett of Crain’s Chicago Business about a new app that will pay you to take selfies.

Next, Amy checks back in with Steve – who takes a look at how much companies should invest in their senior employees. Robert Perrin, the CEO of Magellan Associates LLC, joins Steve to discuss the pros and cons.

Amy wraps up the show with Susan Mudd, a Senior Policy Advocate who leads the Environmental Law and Policy Center’s Diesel Pollution Reduction Initiative. Susan talks about how small businesses can easily reduce air pollution. All that and more on this episode of the Wintrust Business Lunch!

Click here to listen to the audio story. ELPC’s segment starts at 23:00.

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