Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Heinz Endowments to Work Harder on Bad Air

A report released today by the Heinz Endowments finds that while the region’s air may be better than it has been in the past, it still lags behind much of the nation. Study author John Graham says there is no doubt the region’s air quality is better than it was decades ago but the improvements have not been as fast as they could have been. “I looked [at data] over the course from 1999 to 2009, at the beginning of that period there were two monitors in this region out of 11 that were in the worst 10-percent of monitors nationwide for annual PM2.5 pollution, by the end of the decade there were actually six,” says Graham. That means even though air quality improved in southwestern Pennsylvania it improved more in other places.

Graham says power plants may be a big reason why the region has lagged, “In some respects the power plants here in western Pennsylvania have not made the same reductions as other places in the country.” Facilities in Ohio and West Virginia are reducing emissions at rates twice as fast as plants in this region according to Graham.

Endowments President Robert Vaught says the report debunks the myth that the pollution is all blowing in from other states. It finds about half of the region’s pollution is from local sources. “Now inside that there is a piece of good news because it means that if at least half is generated here, this is a portion that we can then begin to try to control ourselves,” says Vagt.

In reaction to the report the Heinz Endowments plans to launch a new effort focused on air quality. Grants will be made to press for more federal oversight, more monitoring and greater public awareness not only of the problem but also of what individuals can do to make a difference. Vagt raised his hand at the news conference announcing the effort and admitted he was a target. I drive into work every day rather than taking the bus he says.

Heinz Endowments Environment Program Director Caren Glotfelty says the Endowments has been making grants for air quality issues in the past but the results have clearly not been what is needed. She is quick to not blame the organizations getting the grants. “These groups have been working in a difficult environment for a long time, culturally and politically,” says Glotfelty, “They have been pushing a boulder up hill for all of the time.” Glotfelty says part of the initiative will be to launch a new section of the Heinz Endowments website. Panels will also be formed to dive into the numbers and look for solutions. The web content will go live later this month and the process of pulling together stakeholders has already begun.

The full report can be found here.

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