Good Hoosier News in the Air

On a somewhat regular basis, a state or national group will release a report that is critical of Indiana’s air quality. Typically, those efforts involve what we will call "creative twists" to the data.

Keith Baugues, assistant commissioner of IDEM’s Office of Air Quality, utilized that same Environmental Protection Agency data and developed a first-of-its-kind study titled States’ View of the Air — 2012. The very good news: All Indiana areas meet the federal standards. What that means is business and industry development can take place throughout the state and not be limited by a lack of air quality attainment.

Baugues worked for EPA for nine years and has authored more than 60 articles on air quality. He joined IDEM in 2010. The comprehensive report covers all 50 states.

Why is this so important? Because the public often has the impression that our air is “dirty” with that opinion coming from the continued tightening of the already very restrictive air quality standards. The “lowering the limbo bar" not only stimulates that faulty thought process but is often very costly with little or no benefit to our environment or public health.

A few highlights and comments below from IDEM, with the full report available online. In addition, the Chamber’s November-December BizVoice magazine published an analysis of Indiana’s environment sub-titled It’s Much Cleaner Than You Might Realize.

Ground-level ozone and airborne particles are two pollutants that pose the greatest threat to human health in this country. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) establishes health standards that all states follow. The standards have become more and more protective in recent years. The data used for the IDEM report comes from air monitors used by state government agencies, including IDEM, and U.S. EPA to do annual assessments on these pollutants under the most current standards.

For each area contained in the report, pollutant concentrations were averaged to determine the average quality of the air that people are breathing. Population density was factored into the grading system to reflect the greater potential for negative public health impacts in areas where many people live and work. The IDEM report also includes information about at-risk groups in all states.

All regions of Indiana meet U.S. EPA’s current ozone standard, as well as U.S. EPA’s annual and daily standards for fine particles. Under the population weighted average used for the States’ View of the Air – 2012 report, areas meeting the federally-based air quality standard are given a C. To earn a C, the area must be better than the standard by up to 10 percent. Those areas that are better by more than 10 but less than 20 percent earn a B, and areas better by more than 20 percent receive an A. All Indiana counties included in the report received Bs and Cs for ozone, and As and Bs for fine particle pollution.

To assess air quality, air monitors are located in urban and rural areas to watch for pollutants. Regulations implemented in recent years have significantly reduced pollutants from industry. Cleaner fuel and engine standards have significantly reduced harmful vehicle emissions, which contribute significantly to the level of pollution that is generated locally.

“Our air is healthy. Hoosiers can be proud that Indiana has made great progress toward cleaner air and achieved the fine particle and ozone standards in all regions of our state,” said IDEM Commissioner Thomas Easterly. “As government, industry, communities and special interest groups work together to meet future, more stringent air quality standards, it’s important for us to have accurate information about air quality. The States’ View of the Air – 2012 report provides accurate, understandable information.”

Indiana’s Environment is Changing… for the Better?

Pollutant levels. Federal standards. State regulations. These factors and more are utilized to determine Indiana’s environmental performance. Three people in the know make the case that our air, water and land are "much cleaner than you might realize." BizVoice magazine has the story.

Fear – it’s a powerful motivator.

It can drive people to all kinds of chilling conclusions, especially when the topic is the environment and the role it plays in the well-being of Hoosiers.

Typically, we hear about the terrible things happening all around us – call it the
“sky is falling” mentality – rather than the many improvements that have been made
over the past 30 years.

Sure, Indiana (like all other locales) faces environmental challenges, both in the near future and long term. However, many of them are out of direct control, including:

  • The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continually tightening standards
  • The unscientific nature of a scientific topic as even experts don’t always know the safe levels for a particular pollutant, many of which are naturally occurring and unable to be destroyed completely
  • A variety of unintended consequences from policy and regulatory decisions, including higher utility bills for the public and the financial toll on industry from increased requirements

While those challenges exist, take comfort in knowing just how far the state has come.

“The environment is incredibly much cleaner than it used to be. A lot of our pollutants are down 80%, so we’ve made great progress. Our challenge is convincing people that it’s true,” indicates Thomas Easterly, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM).

“The environment is cleaner than any other time in our lifetimes, and it continues to get cleaner.”

For more, read the full article.