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EPA: Local air quality on the mend

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved West Virginia’s request to redesignate its portion of the Steubenville-West Virginia area to attainment for the 2010 federal sulfur dioxide national ambient air quality standard under the Clean Air Act.

“Steubenville’s air quality progress is another milestone in 50 years of environmental achievements in America,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “A priority goal for this administration is to significantly reduce the number of areas in the United States that do not meet air quality standards. We’re accomplishing this ambitious goal through strong state and local partnerships and a common mission to ensure clean air for all Americans.”

His thoughts were shared by Cosmo Servidio, the administrator for EPA Region 3.

“All Americans deserve to breathe clean air, and meeting air quality standards is one of the Trump administration’s top priorities. Both West Virginia and Ohio should be commended for their work to improve air quality in the Steubenville region,” he said.

In EPA Region 3, federal officials had redesignated to attainment four areas since 2017 that were in nonattainment in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

In EPA Region 5, 24 areas were redesignated since 2017 that were nonattainment in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. Attainment of the NAAQS means cleaner air, improved health outcomes, and greater economic opportunities for cities and communities across the country, said EPA officials.

“EPA’s strong partnership with Ohio and West Virginia has resulted in cleaner, healthier air for those who live and work in the Steubenville area. In addition to cleaner air, once Steubenville is redesignated, local businesses will face few air permitting restrictions paving the way for the infrastructure investment and economic development that can create jobs,” said Kurt Thiede, EPA Region 5 administrator.

EPA officials said under President Trump, combined emissions of criteria and precursor pollutants in the U.S. have dropped 7 percent and the amount of sulfur dioxide emitted into the air decreased 16 percent.

Nationally, the Trump administration has redesignated 48 nonattainment areas since 2017.

In 2013, the Steubenville area was designated nonattainment for the 2010 sulfur dioxide NAAQS under the Clean Air Act.

The Steubenville area is comprised of the city of Steubenville and Cross Creek, Steubenville, Warren and Wells townships and the Cross Creek Tax District in Brooke County.

Last year, Ohio and West Virginia each formally submitted a request to redesignate their portions of the Steubenville area from nonattainment to attainment of sulfur dioxide standards.

In late 2019, the EPA approved Ohio’s request for its portion of the Steubenville area to be redesignated to attainment.

Reduced sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere means cleaner, healthier air for the citizens of the Steubenville area, especially children, the elderly and those who suffer from asthma who are particularly sensitive to pollution by the compound.

A decrease in sulfur dioxide and related compounds also means less chance of haze and acid rain, which can harm sensitive ecosystems.

EPA officials said nationally, average concentrations of sulfur dioxide decreased 82 percent from 2000 to 2019.

They reported all other air pollutants regulated under the NAAQS — ozone, carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter — have also significantly decreased because of various air quality management and control strategies developed and implemented at the local, state, regional and national level.

EPA officials earlier cited stricter regulations for local power plants and other industries that burn fossil fuels as a factor in reducing sulfur dioxide emissions.

Mike Paprocki, executive director of the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission, said EPA regulations have been criticized at times for being overextended but this is a case of them producing a positive result.

Paprocki said a decline in industrial activity in the region also has resulted in the lower emissions in an area with a terrain that contributes to the impact of industrial pollution.

“Everything gets trapped in this valley with the prevailing winds,” he said.

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