For the first time since the state began monitoring ground-level ozone in the 1970s, the entire state of Maine is now officially meeting federal ambient air quality standards, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on December 11.
Mirrors Regional Trend
Maine’s air quality improvements since the late 1980s are particularly impressive.
In 1988, Maine had 34 days in which ozone levels were considered “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” That number dropped to merely two days last year, falling within federal attainment standards.
EPA announced similar improvements for New England as a whole. There were 26 days deemed unhealthy for sensitive groups in all of New England last year, compared to 90 such days in 1983.
Ongoing Clean Air Trend
“Maine is an example of the ongoing decline in ground-level ozone and pollution in general throughout the nation,” said Joel Schwartz, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
“Environmental activist groups have been alleging the Bush administration is rolling back the Clean Air Act, but unrelenting improvements in air quality in Maine, New England, and the country as a whole show just the opposite to be true,” Schwartz said.
Seemingly Impossible Task
Jim Brooks, head of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Air Quality, told the December 12 Bangor Daily News that back in the 1980s he thought he would never see the day when the state could meet federal attainment standards.
“I’m very pleased. This is a milestone,” Brooks said.
Maine officials attributed the clean air gains to a wide range of programs implemented at the federal, state, and local levels, including programs implemented in upwind states.
“We’ve made great strides in improving our air quality here in Maine and throughout the Northeast,” David Littell, commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, stated in a news release.
“While Maine is now meeting the federal ozone standard, there remains room for air quality improvement,” Littell added. “We need to continue working with EPA and upwind states to further reduce emissions of ozone precursors and other pollutants including mercury from power plants. As emission control programs and technology advance, we should be prepared to follow suit and adopt new controls that effectively reduce these air pollutants.”
James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.