Dept. of Ecology seeks input on improving Tacoma’s air quality

The public has an opportunity to weigh in on strategies designed to improve air quality in the greater Tacoma area and surrounding communities.

In 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated a non-attainment area that included those communities because local air quality did not meet the federal health-based clean air standard for fine particle pollution. People can easily inhale tiny fine particles, which penetrate deep into the lungs and the circulatory system. Exposure to fine particles is linked with respiratory disease, decreased heart and lung function, asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes, and premature death.

The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) is working with the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, and other interested organizations and individuals to improve air quality and reverse the federal designation.

A non-attainment designation could hinder economic development because large industries seeking to expand or new large businesses looking to build and bring jobs to the area face additional strict requirements. Some large existing businesses could be required to install more emission controls. That might prompt businesses to move elsewhere, taking jobs and potential revenue from the area.

Also, if the state doesn’t implement a plan to improve air quality, EPA could impose a federal plan that may not provide the best solutions for the area. In addition, if the air quality doesn’t improve federal transportation funding for highway projects could be cut because more traffic could add to air pollution in the area.

Ecology has drafted a plan that describes strategies to make sure air quality meets the federal standard for fine particles. The strategies are outlined in the revised State Implementation Plan (SIP) for reducing key air pollutants. Ecology plans to submit the revised SIP to EPA before the end of the year. The public can review and comment on the revised SIP. Ecology’s public comment period runs from Sept. 10 through Oct. 19, 2012.

The proposed revision describes strategies to reduce air pollution in the non-attainment area through increased enforcement during burn bans; required removal of uncertified woodstoves and inserts; work to reduce other sources of fine particle pollution; includes Puget Sound Clean Air’s proposed regulation for solid-fuel burning devices; reports on how Ecology considered environmental justice concerns in the area; reports on the public involvement and stakeholder process; and includes the 2008 emissions inventory for the non-attainment area, which is required by the federal Clean Air Act.

You can find the proposed SIP changes and related documents online here; at the Tacoma Public Library (Main Branch), 1102 Tacoma Ave. S.; Swasey Branch Library, 7001 Sixth Ave., Tacoma.; South Tacoma Branch Library,3411 S. 56th St.; and Puyallup Public Library, 324 S. Meridian.

You can submit comments by testifying or submitting written comments at a public hearing that begins at 6 p.m. on Weds., Oct. 17 at the University of Washington’s Tacoma campus. The hearing will be in the GWP Building at 1754 Pacific Ave. You can also e-mail your comments to AQComments@ecy.wa.gov. You can also mail comments to Margo Thompson, Washington Department of Ecology, P.O. Box 47600, Olympia, WA 98504-7600.

Ecology will review and consider all comments. The comments will be summarized in a document, along with Ecology’s responses. The proposed SIP changes may be modified based on public comments.