Virginia: Pretty Good Grades for Clean Air

On the subject of the competitiveness of large versus small metros (see previous post), one metric for gauging the quality of life is air pollution. All other things being equal, people would prefer to live in places with clean air than places with dirty air. Ozone remains a problem in Arlington, Fairfax and Henrico Counties, according to the just-published American Lung Association “State of the Air” report. But Virginia localities rate pretty well for particle pollution.

I’m not sure how heavily “clean air” weighs in peoples’ minds compared to other factors such as employment opportunities, housing costs, traffic congestion and the like. It’s not as if the air in Fairfax and Arlington, which rate F for ozone, is remotely as noxious as that of Beijing or Kolkota. Once air quality reaches a tolerable level, people may not place the same value on incremental gains. I don’t recall anyone ever citing air quality as a reason to live in one metro over another. Still, clean air is a factor, even if a small one.

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6 responses to “Virginia: Pretty Good Grades for Clean Air

  1. Glad you brought this up, Jim, I was going to mention it.
    I have never lived in a place with air as clean as Fairfax, but American Lung Assoc gives Fairfax/NoVA an “F” for ozone, which to me seems like attention grabbing over-exaggeration. On that grading basis, South Jersey must get a “Z”. Houston must be “ZZZ”.

    I was also upset with American Lung Association during the Clean Power Plan public meetings in Virginia, they were saying CO2 is toxic and killing tens of thousands of Americans per year. Of course CO2 is completely non-toxic. But the Obama EPA allowed claiming high death rates for CO2 based on the fact that particulates are often associated with CO2 , and EPA has assigned high death rate to fine particulates. I am not a fan of coal burning or particulates, but that’s the source of many of the EPA quoted death rates. For example, the death rates EPA assigns to mercury from coal are really mostly based on the associated particulates. Obama EPA took the approach that associated contaminants can be considered part of the toxicty assessment.

    Even if Fairfax is more like a B-, I am not opposed to getting better. The question would be, what can be done? Diesels are probably one source of any problem. I know in New Jersey we had very special gasoline nozzles at the gas stations to prevent vapor release. I am unlcear if that step is still helpful with the advanced fuel tanks on cars today. Coal plants release a lot of NOx which is what helps to make ozone, so of course that source is on the decline, but certainly NoVA is on the downwind side of WV and OH.

    This relates to your recent article on air toxics “1,2,4 trimethylbenzene, of which 132,000 pounds were released into Virginia’s air and waterways in 2017”. That source of that number is presumably somebody’s estimate of evaporative emissions (VOC- Volatile Organic Compounds) from cars and gaso stations. The smog forming chemical equation is VOC+NOx= Smog/Ozone. As we do not have much if any visible smog in NoVA, like you can see in NJ/NYC, we are not doing too bad on the equation. Autos are incredibly clean burning today, but we do have the refueling as one possible issue.

  2. geeze – anyone who thinks cars are “clean” – I invite you to put one in your garage, close the door and see how long you can last. Yeah, it’ll take longer than before but you’ll still be quite dead!

    In terms of what Obama “did” or not, I do not think he dramatically changed the protocols – the trend line started decades ago and steadily continued and that’s WHY we DO have clean(er) air and I should not need to remind how many folks OPPOSED the EPA clean air rules from the beginning or lets put it another way – how many SUPPORTED the clean air rules from the start and how many became johnny-come-lately “converts” who STILL SAY – “we’ve gone too far”!

    As we speak – we have groups that want to roll all of it back.

    ” Major automakers are pushing the Trump administration to abandon its plan to roll back climate change rules for cars.

    Companies had emphatically encouraged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) to undo the Obama administration’s plans to ratchet up greenhouse gas emissions and fuel efficiency rules for cars through 2026.

    But now they’re trying to stop the agencies from going too far in the other direction and freezing the standards in 2020″

    https://thehill.com/policy/transportation/automobiles/413729-automakers-fight-trumps-auto-emissions-rollback

  3. What year and model are you driving Larry? New gaso cars are extremely clean now. The 3-way catalytic converter does a tremendous job of removing almost all CO/NOx/hydrocarbons. In the past, the only thing holding back catalyst performance was relatively high sulfur. As we speak, sulfur levels in fuel have been regulated by EPA to ultra low levels, allowing the cat converter to really achieve high performance to kick most tailpipe contaminants in the butt. There could be some exception when you first start your car in the garage due to the cold catalyst. My Prius is a California car so it is designed for ultra low emissions even when cold.

    When you are criticizing Trump admin rollbacks on cars, you are mainly talking about Obama admin’s unrealistic MPG increase/CO2 reduction mandates, not ozone. The autos have been inconsistent on that, at first saying it is draconian unrealistic, now for some reason, some of the autos like the idea of heavy government forcing of electric vehicles and unrealistic unobtainable high MPG targets.

  4. I once asked an EPA person how clean must the atmosphere be for no further efforts to clean it are needed. He said that it must be as clean as it was before humans existed. He admitted that we have no data on the conditions then. He also had no data to show the ill effects of ozone concentrations at the current Fairfax levels. When I showed him ozone data on Natural Bridges, the standard of cleanliness for Virginia, he said that the high readings there were caused by clouds of ozone coming from Pennsylvania. He admitted that reducing Fairfax emissions will not reduce the incidence of these clouds.

    • Fred –

      I would suggest that your EPA friend was a wise man.

      For another example of the point he made, a recent study concluded that the rising carbons emitted by the undeveloped world over the next 50 years will overwhelm all the carbon reductions achieved in the highly unlikely event that the US, Europe, India, and China MEET the greenhouse gas mitigation goals set by 2016 Paris Accords. I read that report’s conclusions to argue strongly that either:

      1/ all modern nations must take far stronger actions to curtail emissions beyond those mandated by the Paris Accords and, in addition, to require those modern nations to force the undeveloped world to stay undeveloped, and/or,

      2/ the world had to embraced wholeheartedly nukear power and rush headlong into a nuclear power generation future. This second solution was not expressly proposed or discussed by the report.

      In any case, what Virginians do in Virginia will have trifling consequence on the overall problem or its solution. Hence the current hysteria and the course that Virginia is now on amounts to a Fool’s Errand, absent the state’s strong acceleration of nuclear power generation in Virginia.

      • Here is an extract of the recent alarming study published in journal Earth’s Future, as it was summarized by Ben German in his April 24, 2019 Generate column in Axios:

        “WHAT IS NEEDED FOR WORLDWIDE CO2 CUTS

        2. What’s needed for worldwide CO2 cuts

        The second study out yesterday shows global temperatures will still far exceed the Paris goals even if the largest emitters like China, the U.S. and India were to aggressively cut emissions by mid-century, the second study unveiled yesterday shows.

        Why it matters: Avoiding that places a huge burden on the developing world to deeply cut emissions fast — and creates a big responsibility to help those nations employ the tech to do it, according to the research published in the journal Earth’s Future.

        The bottom line: “Real progress toward the Paris Agreement goal awaits an effective commitment by leading countries to undertake breakthrough research and development of low‐, zero‐, or even negative‐carbon‐emissions energy technologies that can be deployed at scale in the developing world,” it states.

        What they did: The paper explores how much different parties would need to cut emissions under an aggressive decarbonization pathway that could hold global temperature rise below 2°C.

        It gets sobering fast, stating…
        “Even if the United States, [EU], China, and India were able to halve their emissions each decade 2020–2050 … the accomplishment would nevertheless leave a huge and debilitating challenge for the rest of the world.”

        Threat level: The paper assesses the cuts to global CO2 needed based on different odds of achieving the Paris temperature goal.

        To have even a 66% chance of staying under 2°C would mean, in addition to the biggest emitters’ cuts, the rest of the world would need to “immediately change its current course” and also cut emissions in half every decade, starting now.

        What they’re saying: Co-author Glen Peters of Norway’s Center for International Climate Research said both deployment of existing tech and breakthroughs are needed.” END QUOTE

        ALTHOUGH NOT MENTIONED OR SUGGESTED in Ben German’s column or in the study that underlies that column, I believe it to be obvious that these findings, if true, demand the deployment of existing tech in NUCLEAR POWER GENERATION worldwide, as well as new breakthroughs in nuclear power generation that also be deployed worldwide.

        How odd! The environmentalists who sound the loudest alarms against CO2 emissions refuse to even mention, much less demand deployment of, the only real solution to a CO2 crisis they claim to confront the very survival of the planet. How can they have a crisis yet refuse to solve it?

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