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EPA honors Maricopa County Rapid Response Notification Sys.

September 20, 2012 - [Washington D.C] The Maricopa County Air Quality Department has been recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] as one of 11 recipients in the nation during the 12th Annual Clean Air Excellence Awards.


The Air Quality Department was recognized for its Rapid Response Notification System, developed last year to provide immediate alerts when any station in the air monitoring network detects elevated levels of particulate pollution. Once alerted, businesses, residents and partnering agency stakeholders can help to maintain compliance with air quality standards by stabilizing loose dirt in their respective area or even halting dust-generating operations during an alert period. This public-private partnership effort involves over 5020 participants to date.


“We are honored to receive an EPA Clean Air Excellence Award for our Rapid Response Notification System,” said Air Quality Department Director Bill Wiley. “We would like to thank our partners for their support of the Rapid Response program. This collaboration improves our air and protects the health of our community.”


The EPA explains the 12th annual Clean Air Excellence Awards recognize innovative programs that protect Americans' health and the environment, educate the public, serve their communities and stimulate the economy.


“The 42-year history of the Clean Air Act is all about meeting challenges through commitment and innovation,” said Gina McCarthy, EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation. “The contributions of this year’s award winners are continuing the Clean Air Act’s progress in benefiting public health, our communities and the economy.”


The awards program, established in 2000 at the recommendation of the Clean Air Act Advisory Committee, annually recognizes entries that help reduce air pollution, provide a model for others to follow and offer innovative, sustainable outcomes.


This year’s award recipients were selected from 78 applicants and represent achievements in six categories: clean air technology, community action, education outreach, regulatory/policy innovations, transportation efficiency innovations, and the Gregg Cooke Visionary Program Award. Award winners are:


Clean Air Technology

ReNew Air Scrubber Technology, Diversey Incorporated, Racine, WI.


Community Action

Frazier Courtyard Homes, Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity, Dallas, Texas

Electric Vehicle Ecosystem Pilot Project, City and County of Greenville, S.C.

Free Zoo & Trolley Too!, Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, Providence, R.I.


Education Outreach

Conservation and Climate Change Challenge, Broward County, Fla.

InnerTribal Beat, Spokane Tribal Air Quality Program and KYRS Community Radio, Spokane, Wash.


Regulation/Policy Innovations

Rapid Response Notification System, Maricopa County Air Quality Department, Maricopa County, Ariz.

GHG Emissions Reduction Projects, Frito-Lay, Incorporated-Beloit, Beloit, Wis.


Transportation Efficiency Innovations

Leadership in Reducing Ocean-going vessel Emissions, Maersk Line/Maersk Agency USA, Charlotte, N.C.

Climate Initiatives Program, Metropolitan Transportation Commission of San Francisco Bay Area, San Francisco, Calif.



Gregg Cooke Visionary Program Award

SC Johnson Global Sustainability Program, SC Johnson, Racine, Wis.



Entries are judged by EPA and the Clean Air Act Advisory committee, and winners are recognized with a certificate at an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.


More information:


Sign up for a Rapid Response Notification on the Air Quality Department’s website

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7 Simple Ways to Befriend Your Commute


Author Scott Turow wrote "Presumed Innocent" while riding the "L" train to his job as an attorney in Chicago — and it became a huge best-seller and a movie. Certainly you should be able accomplish something during those long hauls to and from the office, right? Yet for most of us, commuting remains a daily grind that seems to add up to nothing but hours lost and frustration gained. Why not reclaim this precious time by doing something useful — and not just catching up on your work emails?

The trick, as with most things, is adjusting your attitude. Try to start thinking of your commute as not just a chore, but an opportunity for solo time that you can use as you wish — something that's in short supply when you're a working parent. Whether you travel by train, bus or car, you can make a resolution to use that time more effectively ... and make it work for you. Here are some ideas to help you on your way:

1. Drink your breakfast. Multitask (and avoid the pitfalls of a stop at the coffee shop) by having a healthy breakfast on the road. Start a power smoothie the night before: Put yogurt, fresh or frozen fruit, protein or green powder, and juice in your blender jar and tuck it into the fridge. In the morning, just hit blend, pour your smoothie into a travel cup, and go.

2. Learn in the car. Instead of just turning on the same old music or audio books, think about what you'd like to know more about and listen strategically during your commute. (After all, you'll never have time to read all this stuff at home!) Podcasts, like those on NPR, offer enlightening information on everything from science to literature to pop culture — all in commute-size bites. Dip into an audio book by a stimulating author you've always heard about but never read, like Eckhart Tolle or Seth Godin, or test drive how-to books on anything from home repair to conversational Spanish.

3. Phone old friends. Never have time to catch up with your old office mate from San Francisco or your sister in Maine? Make a plan so it's on both of your calendars, then enjoy a leisurely kid-free conversation by chatting on a good hands-free device. You'll walk into work feeling connected and pleased.

4. Be present. On family road trips, parents often complain that their kids never look at the scenery because their noses are buried in books or handheld devices. Don't fall victim to the same behavior as a grown-up! Take time to look out the window, breathe and notice people and places along your commute. If you're driving, try a slightly different route now and then to mix things up. Take time to let your mind wander and to think about your surroundings and your place in them.

5. Be crafty. If you've ever given a passing thought to knitting, embroidery or hand-sewing, now's your chance. Needlecrafts are perfect for train or bus rides, and they can have a relaxing, meditative quality. Plus, you could end up with an assortment of cute knitted hats for your kids or embroidered onesies for those upcoming baby showers!

6. Start a carpool club. If you often car- or vanpool with the same people, choose one day per week where you'll all discuss something of interest to all of you — and that does not mean complaining about your co-workers! If you're all big readers, form a carpool book club, where your monthly "meetings" are on the way to work. Or talk in depth about any subject you all deem riveting: personal investing, hiking, foreign films, good trips to take with kids, or simply the most recent episode of "Mad Men."

7. Write it down. Use your bus or train time to enjoy the old-fashioned pleasures of writing longhand. Invest in some nice stationery and/or a leather-bound journal for the express purpose of writing during your commute. Write an unexpected letter to an old friend or your mom, send thank-you notes to people who have helped you recently, rediscover the art of journaling, or yes — take notes for your genius screenplay or novel. (If Scott Turow can do it, why not you?)


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Maricopa County won't have to impose stricter air rules

by Shaun McKinnon - May. 1, 2012 05:29 PM

The Republic |


Maricopa County exceeds the new federal limit on ozone pollution, but is close enough to complying that it won't be required to impose stricter rules on motorists or industries, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday.


The finding was part of the EPA's long-awaited decision on which U.S. cities and counties violated the ozone limit, which was actually established in 2008 but put on hold while the Obama administration considered an even more restrictive standard.


Special report: The Air We Breathe


In Arizona, only the Phoenix metropolitan area, which includes most of Maricopa County and a small part of Pinal County, was listed as out of compliance with the new limit. But the EPA classified Phoenix as a "marginal" violator, which means the region is among the cities and counties closest to meeting the standard.


The health-based standard is now 75 parts per billion; it had been 80 parts per billion.


If the EPA had classified Phoenix as "moderate" or worse, state and county officials would have been required to produce a plan that outlined additional measures to reduce ozone pollution or face federal sanctions, such as restrictions on federal highway money.


"Obviously, we think this is a good thing," said Bill Wiley, director of the Maricopa County Air Quality Department. "That said, we still have our challenges. We still have days where we exceed the health-based standards and it's on those days we need everyone to do their part."


Maricopa County exceeded the ozone standard at at least one monitor on 23 days last year and on 10 days in 2010. But when measured on an annual average, ozone levels have decreased from 88 parts per billion in 2000 to 77 parts per billion last year, according to county air quality data.


The EPA measures compliance using air-monitor readings based on daily eight-hour periods, then averaged over three years. The agency used readings from 2008, 2009 and 2010 to determine the status of each city or county.


Ground-level ozone, the primary component of smog, forms when heat and sunlight react with nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. Vehicle exhaust, gasoline fumes and industrial pollution can contribute to ozone.


The pollutant damages lung tissues and can sicken people and shorten lives. It is especially harmful to children and people with existing respiratory ailments.


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Phoenix park-and-ride lot usage runs 55%

by Michael Clancy - Apr. 20, 2012 01:07 PM
The Republic |

The Phoenix Transit Department has released new usage statistics for its seven park-and-ride lots around the city.


Overall, the city's 3,337 park-and-ride spaces were filled to about 55 percent capacity December through February, with approximately 1,750 users a day.


The statistics show that the most-used park-and-ride lot for those months was the one at 79th Avenue and Interstate 10 in west Phoenix, which is the second-largest lot in the city and has 607 parking spaces. It was filled to an average of 70 percent of capacity daily, or about 425 cars a day.


The most-filled lot was the one at Bell Road and Interstate 17 in north Phoenix. With just 350 parking spaces, it was filled up to 90 percent of capacity on average and was almost completely full during January, when 338 cars parked there daily.


The other well-used lot, in terms of number of vehicles parked there, was the one at Pecos Road and 40th Street in Ahwatukee. It is the largest lot in the system, with 906 spaces. An average of 425 cars parked there, leaving usage at less than 50 percent.


The park-and-ride lots in northeast Phoenix showed less usage.


In the lot with 377 spaces at Bell Road and Arizona 51, there was an average of 215 cars, filling it to about 60 percent of its capacity.


At Shea Boulevard and Arizona 51, usage was even less. The lot has 370 spaces, and an average of 160 cars a day, or less than 45 percent of capacity, parked there.


In north Phoenix, the lot at Happy Valley Road and I-17, with 512 spaces, filled to less than half of its capacity on average for the three months with about 225 cars a day.


At Metrocenter, about 150 cars a day used the 215-space lot, filling it to about 70 percent capacity.


The lots are used by commuters, typically those who want to catch an express bus to work in downtown Phoenix.


Transit officials say they use the numbers for planning purposes.


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Big, Brown and Bad All Over

Author: Elan Head

Phoenix Magazine

Issue: April, 2008, Page 233

In theory, Welch has the most privileged views of anyone in the Valley. From 3,000 or 4,000 feet, it should be possible to see the entire sprawling metropolitan area laid out like a street atlas – from the southeastern reaches of Queen Creek to the northwestern limits of Sun City West. But the air is frequently so dirty that he can barely make out the Chandler air traffic control tower as he’s headed back to the airport from the south.

“Imagine a picture of the morning fog over the Golden Gate Bridge, and then paint that brown over the city,” he says. “On the hot, still days of fall, after the monsoons are past, that’s what you get. When it’s at its worst, you can’t even make out the skyscrapers Downtown, even if Picacho Peak is crystal clear.”

Phoenix’s infamous “brown cloud” is bad enough from the ground. Seen from the air, it assumes a science fiction-like menace. No longer a soupy haze, but a cohesive, creeping fog that seems to be smothering the city, the brown cloud could be the aftermath of an apocalypse or the harbinger of an alien invasion.

Which begs the question: What, exactly, is it?

The answer: a suspension of fine particles spewed from our tailpipes and kicked up by our tires that is literally choking us to death. And because only certain types of pollutants make a visible contribution to the brown cloud, the problem is even worse than it looks. The air in Phoenix is inducing heart attacks and keeping kids home from school. It’s not an exaggeration to say that you’re shaving years off your life simply by living in the Valley.

Why Is the Sky Brown?

By its simplest definition, a brown cloud is a haze with a brown appearance – a haze being a suspension of particles that are too small to see individually but impair visibility in the aggregate when combined. Brown clouds aren’t unique to Phoenix; they occur over most large cities in the western United States. Ironically, it’s our lack of regional haze that makes “brown cloud” more of a buzz phrase west of the Mississippi than east of it. On the East Coast, large, multi-state regions are so generally hazy that it’s hard to pick out the urban clouds that hang over individual cities.

In environmental literature, the kinds of particles that contribute to air pollution are referred to as particulate matter, or PM. They are broken down by size. Particles with a diameter of 10 micrometers or less are called PM10. Particles that are still smaller, 2.5 micrometers or less, are called PM2.5. That’s incredibly small; by comparison, the diameter of a typical human hair is around 75 micrometers.

Hazes impair visibility by scattering and absorbing light, thereby decreasing the amount of light that travels from distant objects to our eyes. The amount of light scattered by a particle is mostly a function of its size, and there’s a “Goldilocks” phenomenon at work here. The smallest particles in the atmosphere are too small to scatter much light; the largest particles (generally coarse dust particles) are too large. Maximum scattering occurs from particles that are “just right” – those with a diameter roughly equal to the wavelength of light, or 0.5 micrometers. So most of the light scattering that occurs in the atmosphere is due to particles that fall into the PM2.5 category.

According to a 1999 report commissioned by the Maricopa Association of Governments – and still frequently cited in brown cloud literature – the particles that contribute most to haze in western urban areas are organic compounds such as ammonium nitrate, elemental carbon, fine soil dust particles and ammonium sulfate. The exact composition of brown clouds varies by region: Not surprisingly, dust contributes more to the brown cloud problem in Southwestern cities such as Phoenix than it does in the Pacific Northwest. 

Why are the clouds brown?  Light scattering is one way in which hazes impair visibility; light absorption is another. Increasing the light absorption in a haze makes it appear darker and tends to give it a brown appearance – an effect that owes a lot to the subjective properties of human vision. The human brain tends to perceive the brightest element of a scene as being white (which is why water clouds look white, even when they’re slightly blue). Clouds of a darker, more neutral color will look brown or yellow.

Elemental carbon – which has a chemical composition similar to pencil lead and exists in the atmosphere almost entirely as PM2.5 – is particularly efficient at absorbing light. It accounts for most of the “brown” in a brown cloud. Another contributor is the brown gas nitrogen dioxide, which is formed in the atmosphere from the nitrogen oxides emitted by combustion sources. In fact, nitrogen oxide is the only pollutant gas we can actually see. Other common ones, like carbon monoxide and ozone, are invisible.

Generally speaking, the primary sources of PM2.5 in urban areas are combustion sources, mostly gasoline and diesel engine exhaust. Combustion contributes to particulate pollution both directly, by emitting a variety of particles into the air, and indirectly, by emitting gases that are then oxidized in the atmosphere to create additional particles. Combustion is also the major source of elemental carbon. Across the West, our vehicles are the No. 1 cause of brown clouds.

Scientists can apportion blame for the brown cloud in a particular area by performing chemical mass balance calculations – mathematically computing the combination of emission sources that best account for the pollutants observed in the atmosphere. According to the 1999 MAG report, gasoline engine exhaust accounts for about half of the ambient PM2.5 in Maricopa County, and diesel engine exhaust accounts for about 15 percent. Although soil dust pollution is a huge problem in the Valley, accounting for roughly half of our total PM pollution, its contribution to the visible brown cloud is less significant, because most soil dust particles are too large to efficiently scatter light. Our brown cloud exists not because we live in the desert, but because we drive in it.

Clear Weather Warning

Learning about weather is an important part of a pilot’s training. In the air, you’re not just a weather observer – you’re a participant. Pilots learn early in their careers to distinguish between stable and unstable air; the former makes for a smoother ride, but it also makes it difficult to see.

Obviously, the brown cloud is a lot worse on some days than others. But (with the possible exception of the weekends) that’s not because we’re driving less, or have noticeably changed the amount or type of pollutants we’re pumping into the atmosphere. The one real variable is the weather, and weather is what determines the day-to-day clarity of our air.

As a general rule, brown clouds are most common on calm, cloudless mornings. Here’s why:

On clear nights, with no cloud cover to trap it, the Earth’s surface radiates its residual daytime heat into space. If the air is calm, that layer of air closest to the surface tends to stay there. As the surface cools down, the air next to it does, too.

This creates what’s known as an inversion. Typically, air gets thinner and colder as you gain altitude (which is why ski resorts tend to be in the mountains rather than at sea level). In an inversion, the air near the surface is cooler than the air above it. Because cold air sinks, it tends to stay there – and this stagnant air traps pollutants, creating the familiar brown cloud.

As the day progresses, the sun heats the Earth’s surface and the air next to it. This warm air rises and joins the wind flow aloft, dispersing any pollutants that go with it. For a pilot – and his or her passengers – the updrafts and downdrafts that result from convective heating make for a bumpy ride, but they improve visibility in the cockpit as well as on the ground. Regional weather systems with strong winds can also improve visibility by simply blowing pollutants away (although in Phoenix, they also can whip up some wicked dust storms).

In 1993, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) began measuring “light extinction” in Phoenix as a way of quantifying the effects of the brown cloud on visibility. Data from that program indicate that severe hazes occur most frequently from late September through February. There are a couple of reasons why the brown cloud is worse in the fall and winter. Shorter days give less opportunity for convective heating and the mixing action that comes with it. And since more morning commuting is done in the dark, before that convective mixing is active, brown clouds tend to become even denser and more persistent.

The Valley’s geographical features also play a role in the persistence of brown clouds. Night-time airflows tend to run downhill, as air that is cooled more rapidly by radiation on the exposed upper reaches of a slope sinks to replace the warmer air below it. Observations made at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport show that in the mornings, winds are typically light and come from the east, the result of cool air draining down the Salt River Valley. 

Photo by The Maricopa County Air Quality Department

Afternoon winds are more variable but frequently occur from the west. When this is the case, air that was blown out of Phoenix in the morning is pushed back in the afternoon – and we breathe a double dose of pollutants, from both our morning and our evening commutes.

Because many air pollutants are invisible, clear air doesn’t necessarily equate to healthy air. But common sense dictates – and science supports – that when the brown cloud is hanging over the Valley, the air is bad for us in all kinds of ways. For example, combustion sources create invisible as well as visible pollutants (and motor vehicles also kick up PM10 pollution in the form of road dust). The same weather patterns that keep visible pollutants over the city keep invisible ones there as well.

A Silent Killer

What are the consequences of breathing in the brown cloud? Significant. The toxic cocktail of pollutants in our air affects us in multiple ways.

Let’s take particulate matter, first. According to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2007 report, exposure to particulate pollution is killing us – and not just slowly. Even short-term exposure to particulate pollution is linked to increased mortality from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, especially among children and the elderly. High particulate pollution is directly linked to greater infant mortality, more heart attacks and more hospitalizations for conditions such as strokes. “Unfortunately, particle pollution does not just make people die a few days earlier than they might otherwise; these are deaths that would not have occurred if the air was cleaner,” the report states.

Long-term exposure to particulate pollution kills, too. Breathing particulate pollution day in and day out puts us at increased risk for lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. The effects of living with particulate pollution are similar to smoking: According to a 2005 review of existing research, the body responds to particulate matter much as it does to cigarette smoke. Even if you’re healthy now, expect the effects to catch up with you – chronic exposure to particulate pollution will shorten your life by one to three years.

Ozone pollution also is taking years off our lives. As with particulate pollution, high levels of ozone are associated with greater mortality in people with heart failure, pulmonary congestion or lung disease. Even in relatively healthy people, exposure to ozone can trigger some immediate adverse effects: shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing, and increased susceptibility to respiratory infections. Chronic exposure can cause pulmonary inflammation and increased asthma attacks.

According to the governor’s office, in 2005, Arizonans spent 23,000 patient days – more than 60 years – in the hospital for asthma. Air pollution is especially problematic for asthma sufferers. Heightened and more frequent asthma attacks triggered by air pollution are the primary cause of school absences among children in Arizona. In 2005, more than 2,500 Arizona children under the age of 15 were hospitalized for asthma.

“Just living here and breathing the air, you’re probably taking one percent off your lifespan,” says Sandy Bahr, conservation outreach director for the Sierra Club. “It’s just criminal that we have to tell our children to play inside because the air is so bad.”

A Hazy Situation

Just how bad is bad?

Ozone and particulates are the biggest offenders in Maricopa County. The American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2007 report gave the county an “F” grade for ozone pollution and a “D” grade for particle pollution. (Most other counties in Arizona received an “A” or “B” on the same scale.)

According to the Sierra Club, in 2005, Maricopa County exceeded the federal health standard for ozone 30 times. And “all of the recent research indicates that the levels established by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) are not protective enough of public health,” Bahr says.

Ozone is formed when sunlight reacts with volatile organic compounds emitted from vehicles and other sources. So unlike the brown cloud, which is seen more frequently in the fall and winter, ozone is at its worst during the long, sunny days of summer.

However, PM10 pollution – from construction activities, vehicular travel, agriculture and other sources – is Maricopa County’s biggest challenge. In 2005, the Phoenix area exceeded the federal health standard for particulates 20 times; in 2006, it exceeded it 23 times. Because Maricopa County failed to meet PM10 standards by its deadline of December 31, 2006, we now have a federal obligation to cut particulate emissions by 5 percent per year until we’re in compliance. If we fail, we could lose up to $1 billion in federal highway funding – a threat that has finally spurred our traditionally recalcitrant legislature into action. 

Photo by The Maricopa County Air Quality Department

The history of pollution control in Phoenix is a long, discouraging record of political compromises and half-hearted gestures.

“In the ’80s and early ’90s, the state wouldn’t take action unless someone filed a lawsuit,” Bahr says. “Overall, the history is one of someone having to push the elected officials.”

The regulatory foundation for pollution control efforts is the federal Clean Air Act, which was passed in 1970 and amended in 1990. (The Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970 to help enforce the provisions of the Act.) Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has established national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for six primary air pollutants, including carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxides, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and ozone.

When an area fails to meet one of these standards, it is designated a non-attainment area for the pollutant in question – the equivalent of a failing grade on a school progress report. Under the Clean Air Act, the state must then develop what’s called a State Implementation Plan, or SIP. The SIP lays out enforceable strategies for achieving compliance – essentially a state’s promise to try harder and do its homework. The first Arizona SIP was submitted in 1972, and the state has been adding to those promises ever since.

The Act gives state and local governments considerable leeway in how they attack pollution. However, SIPs are subject to EPA approval. If the EPA deems a plan inadequate – or if that plan fails to achieve the desired results – the Act brings increasingly stringent measures to bear on the non-attainment area in question. If necessary, the EPA can issue sanctions against a state or, in some cases, take over enforcement of the Clean Air Act in that area.

However, that’s not a quick or efficient process. As an example, take this abbreviated history of Maricopa County’s non-compliance with PM10 standards, taken from the PM10 SIP:

• In 1990, Congress enacted the Clean Air Act Amendments. Maricopa County was deemed a “moderate” non-attainment area for PM10 and required to show improvement by 1994.

• In 1991, Arizona submitted its moderate area PM10 state implementation plan to the EPA, but it wasn’t approved until 1995.

• In April 1995, the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest (ACLPI) filed suit against the EPA, challenging its approval of the 1991 plan because it failed to address the 24-hour PM10 standard.

•  Meanwhile, the Phoenix area continued to exceed both annual and 24-hour standards for PM10. In May 1996, the EPA reclassified it from a “moderate” to a “serious” non-attainment area, allowing Arizona another 18 months to develop an appropriate serious area plan. The new deadline for attainment became December 31, 2001.

• In December 1997, Arizona submitted its serious area plan to the EPA. In February 1998, the EPA determined that the plan was inadequate in several ways. That triggered an 18-month time clock for mandatory application of sanctions and a two-year time clock for application of a federal implementation plan.

• In June 1999, the Maricopa Association of Governments’ Regional Council adopted a serious area plan for PM10 that contained 77 state and local government control measure commitments. ADEQ submitted this plan to the EPA in July 1999.

• In November 1999, EPA notified MAG of deficiencies in its plan. A revised plan was submitted in February 2000.

• In July 2002, EPA approved Arizona’s serious area PM10 plan for Maricopa County and granted Arizona’s request to extend the attainment deadline from 2001 (which had already passed) to 2006.

• In 2006, Maricopa County once again failed to attain PM10 standards. Arizona was given a deadline of December 31, 2007, to submit a plan for achieving a 5 percent reduction in PM10 emissions per year until the PM10 standard is attained.

• Arizona submitted that plan on December 26, 2007. Now the EPA has six months to determine if the plan is complete and another 12 months to approve or reject it.

“One of the things that you see is that it’s very slow-going,” says Joy Herr-Cardillo, an attorney with the nonprofit Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest who has been active in the center’s air quality efforts. “A lot of it’s frustrating for me when I’m sitting there waiting for the EPA to take action.”

The fact that we’re still failing to meet PM10 standards reflects poorly on the 18-year back-and-forth process recorded above. Clearly, the pollution controls proposed by the state and approved by the EPA were inadequate to meet air quality standards by 2006 – a deadline that had already been extended several times. In the absence of sufficient political will, it has been up to groups like the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest to keep the process moving forward. The ACLPI has taken numerous actions related to air quality over the years, generally with the aim of forcing the EPA to enforce its own requirements.

“The whole [Clean Air] Act was designed to have this private right of enforcement, this citizen’s suit provision,” Herr-Cardillo says.

“We haven’t won all of our cases, but we’ve won enough of them that it does keep the agencies on their toes,” she continues. “A lot of stuff ended up not getting litigated just by the act of bringing the suit…. Sometimes the 60-day notice [of intent to sue] is all it takes for people to get their act together.”


Photo by The Maricopa County Air Quality Department

Cleaning Up Our Act

There are now encouraging signs from elected officials, who have historically allowed pressure from industry groups to hamstring air quality reform. In June 2007, the Arizona Legislature passed Senate Bill 1552, which, among other measures, includes requirements for dust training and dust coordinators on large construction sites; expands the use of cleaner-burning gasoline during the summer months; places limits on where off-road vehicles can drive; and requires cities and towns to pave or stabilize unpaved roads and shoulders. According to ADEQ spokesman Mark Shaffer, the municipal ordinances required by SB 1552 will be adopted by March 2008.

The bill is one component of Arizona’s effort to reduce PM10 pollution by 5 percent per year, as required by the EPA. According to Shaffer, Arizona’s “Five Percent Plan” – the latest SIP – was developed by the Maricopa Association of Governments with input from local municipalities, ADEQ, the EPA, the state Division of Weights and Measures, Department of Agriculture, the Arizona Farm Bureau, local homebuilders and others.

Additionally, the Pinal County Board of Supervisors developed its own plan for the area that includes Apache Junction (two major provisions are paving four miles of public dirt roads and a no-burn ordinance that bans outdoor fires on high PM10 pollution advisory days). ADEQ adopted both plans and submitted them to the EPA.

ADEQ and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors are also trying to raise public awareness about air pollution. Shaffer says that ADEQ has introduced a text-messaging option for high pollution advisories. In February, the Board of Supervisors launched “Running Out of Air,” a county-wide campaign to encourage citizens to do their part to curb dust pollution.

These initiatives do not have purely idealistic motives. Bahr notes that, in part, SB 1552 was “driven by the fact that people were concerned about losing those federal highway dollars.”

In fact, although the federal highway funding at risk is substantial, we’re not in imminent danger of losing it. According to Herr-Cardillo, the state will not really see sanctions as long as it keeps making efforts to improve its air – even if those efforts are largely unsuccessful.

“The sanctions only kick in if the state stops trying,” Herr-Cardillo says. “The way they get into trouble with the Clean Air Act is when they thumb their nose at it… and that’s actually the kind of thing they used to do.”

There is more we could be doing to clean up our air. For years, the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest has tried to require clean-burning CARB diesel in the state (“CARB” refers to the California Air Resources Board).

“Particularly for the smallest of the particulate matter, it would go a long way,” Herr-Cardillo says. However, the most recent plan submitted to the EPA has no provision for it, and the EPA has stated that it will approve a plan without CARB diesel.

The Sierra Club would like to see stronger agricultural controls, more attention paid to sand and gravel permitting, and additional funding for mass transit. It would also like to see an “indirect source” review program for new development.

Bahr points out that new development contributes to air pollution not just during its construction, but over its lifespan, by increasing the number of vehicles and vehicle miles travelled. An indirect source review program would reward developers for things like mixed land use, pedestrian-friendly development and energy-efficient construction that reduces pollution over the life of the project.

“One could argue that part of the reason for failing to meet the mark in 2006 was failing to enforce [air quality measures]… but also just doing the bare minimum,” Bahr says.

As members of the single-occupancy-vehicle, gas-guzzling general public, we’re the ones who contribute most to our brown cloud. But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t change our ways, given the opportunity.

“I actually think people are more willing to make changes now, but they want people to tell them why and how it’s going to help,” Bahr says. “Really, it does matter what each of us does.”

And Herr-Cardillo believes there’s substantial public support for tough air quality legislation and enforcement.

“I would say that the public is very supportive of stringent measures,” she says. “I think people get really, really frustrated that we’re still living with it [air pollution]…. But I do think we continue to see progress.”

Meanwhile, we catch our deep breaths when and where we can. South of Phoenix, one or two thousand feet above the ground, the air is actually clear enough to make out some hazy stars at night – a sight that has been missing from the city for years.

“The advantage of flying south of the city is being able to escape,” Welch says. “The worst part of seeing the brown cloud is knowing you eventually have to go back into it.”


Author: Elan Head

Phoenix Magaze

Issue: April, 2008, Page 233




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New federal smog standards raise challenge for Valley

JJ Hensley and Yvonne Wingett
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 13, 2008 12:00 AM

Smog over Phoenix at this time last year.  Photo by Mark Henle/The Arizona Republic.A slight change in federal ozone standards could bump Maricopa County into the unhealthful range more often but may ultimately save billions of dollars and benefit public health.

The Environmental Protection Agency introduced the new ozone standards Wednesday that administrators say are "the most stringent ever."

Although Maricopa County has not exceeded ozone standards in three years, it has been close, and the new standards may push the area over the edge.

The current standard is effectively 0.084 part per million or below. The new standard will be 0.075 part per million.

"Quite simply . . . we will have a problem with meeting the (new) federal standard," said Bob Kard, head of the county's air-quality department. "We're on the ragged edge. It's going to be a massive undertaking. I think we can do this, I think it will be a benefit to public health, but it's going to have to take a lot of work."

Regional environmental officials said they were waiting to assess the impact of the decision and had not received guidelines from the EPA that would spell out deadlines and strategies for achieving compliance.

In all, 345 counties - including Maricopa, Pima, Pinal and Gila counties - would violate the new standard.

Bringing them into compliance would prevent 900 to 1,100 premature deaths a year nationally, according to the agency, and result in 5,600 fewer hospital or emergency-room visits.

In Maricopa County, the 20 monitors that measure ozone in the county's "non-attainment," or problem, areas are trending downward overall, said Lindy Bauer, environmental director of the Maricopa Association of Governments.

However, ozone readings at one monitor in Rio Verde have reached 0.083 part per million, just barely meeting the current standard of 0.084 ppm.

Levels at that monitor are also trending downward, according to the most recent data.

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson called the new smog requirements "the most stringent standards ever" and said they will require counties that fail to meet the standard to make improvements.

Johnson said state and local officials have considerable time to meet the new requirements, as much as 20 years for some that have the most serious pollution problems. The EPA estimates that, by 2020, the number of counties failing to meet the new health standard will drop to about 28.

About 85 counties fall short of the old standard, which was enacted a decade ago.

But the regulations could also cost businesses anywhere from $7 billion to $11 billion to implement better smog controls, according to estimates from the EPA and industry groups.

Business advocates also claim the science supporting the health effects of reducing the standards is specious.

Businesses had lobbied hard for leaving the smog rule alone, saying the high cost of lower limits could hurt the economy.

In recent weeks, some of the most powerful industry groups in Washington have waged an intense lobbying campaign at the White House, urging the administration to keep the current standard.

Electric utilities, the oil and chemical industries and manufacturing groups argued that tougher standards would require states and local officials to impose new pollution controls, harming economic growth, when the science has yet to determine the health benefits conclusively.

However, others said the EPA didn't go far enough.

John M. Balbus, a physician and the chief health scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, said, "Clearly, at some point, you get to a level where additional benefits just aren't worth it, but I don't think we're there at 75.

"The EPA's own risk estimates show that, between 75 and 70, there will be hundreds more deaths and thousands more visits to emergency rooms, and hundreds of thousands of more lost school days," he said, arguing for a tougher standard of 0.065 ppm.

Estimates released Wednesday say the new threshold could prevent cases of bronchitis, asthma, heart attack, premature death and hospital and emergency-room visits, with potential health-care-related savings totaling $2 billion to $19 billion, according to the agency.

The EPA enacted the 0.08-ppm standard in 1997, but a series of court challenges from industry groups delayed its implementation for several years.

The federal Clean Air Act requires that health standards for ozone and a handful of other air pollutants not take costs into account.

But Johnson said that ought to change. He said the Bush administration plans to propose legislation to Congress to overhaul the 1970 law so that, in the future, costs can be considered when setting health standards.

Arizona will be responsible for submitting a plan on how to clean up the Valley's air.

Tougher standards could be placed on various products sold in the Valley in order to meet the stricter ozone-pollution limits, Kard said.

Those range from gasoline delivery and paints to spray-on deodorants, hair products and glues, which emit pollution-forming chemicals.

Regional officials are waiting on the EPA to spell out the details of the plan, including key dates and implementation guidelines, Bauer said.

"The question is: How long will the EPA give the region to attain the standard," Bauer said.

"Then, we'll be able to see what it means for our region."

Republic wire services contributed to this article.


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Light-rail test a smooth rideEngineers observe a light-rail vehicle being tested Tuesday along Washington Street near the Loop 202 overpass in Phoenix. The slow test-run was engineers' first chance to evaluate the rail line's software and electrical system
Casey Newton
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 24, 2007 11:26 PM

It stopped traffic. It turned heads. It worked.

Crawling down Washington Street like an overgrown toddler, a Metro light-rail vehicle made its maiden voyage under its own power on Tuesday.

The train crept down a mile of track at a top speed of 3 mph with a team of engineers strutting alongside like proud parents.

"It works! Thank God," Metro spokeswoman Marty McNeil said as the vehicle inched down Washington on newly installed electric power lines. "We've towed one of these out here before, but this is the first time we've done it under power, and it's working great."

Tuesday was engineers' first chance to evaluate the rail line's software and electrical system. The trains are powered by electricity from overhead wires.

"The interfaces between the overhead power supply and train . . . performed flawlessly," Jay Harper, Metro operations manager, said in an e-mail.

Two years after Metro broke ground on the $1.4 billion light-rail system, the trains are undergoing a battery of tests in advance of their planned December 2008 opening. The 20-mile starter line stretches from central Phoenix to Mesa.

Later this week, Metro is planning a high-speed test for one of the 17 trains assembled so far. Late at night, engineers will take the vehicle up to 58 mph to test brakes and a system designed to prevent the train from exceeding posted speeds.

The road tests will continue through this December.

Separated from the road by a 6-inch concrete curb, the train rolled by about 30 minutes later than scheduled Tuesday because of additional last-minute safety precautions, officials said. But they were pleased with the train's first trip.

"The test team is delighted with the results," Harper said. "To have the first test out in the street in a very complex system go so well had everyone in good spirits."

Each time the train went through an intersection, Phoenix police stopped traffic to let it pass. Many motorists slowed during the exercise between 44th and 56th streets to gawk at the $2.75 million vehicle.

Most just stared. Some honked. One man stuck a digital camera out his driver's-side window, taking snapshots as he went.

Passers-by said they were eager to use light rail.

"I'd do it just on the whim of it," said Jack O'Malley, a retired car salesman who was taking photos of the vehicle. "When I have visitors, it'd be a treat for them to ride the train."

O'Malley scrambled onto the guideway to take pictures, ignoring Metro officials' pleas to stay out of the train's path.

When engineers finally chased the 74-year-old man off the tracks, he said he couldn't wait to send his photos to his friends around the country.

"They still think we're a big sandbox here in Arizona," O'Malley said with a chuckle. "But I've lived to see science fiction come true."



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Public transit woos Valley's commuters

Popularity could strengthen case for light rail, some say


Sean Holstege
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 20, 2006 12:00 AM


It's 6:45 a.m. in Ahwatukee and the commute is in full swing.

In a steady stream, solo drivers pull into a parking lot on Pecos Road, get out and line up to board one of the I-10 Rapid buses.

If it's standing room only, some wait 10 minutes for the next bus, just to get a plush recliner so they can settle back with a book or an iPod on the way to downtown Phoenix.

"Now, if you're not on the bus by 7 a.m., you can count on standing," said Toni Brouillard, a 50-year-old east Chandler resident who works as an executive assistant at JPMorgan.

Increasingly, this scene plays out every day in park-and-ride lots throughout the Valley.

Over the past two fiscal years, the number of riders on the region's commuter buses has jumped 57 percent. While the raw numbers were still small, an average 5,213 per weekday, the surge outpaced a healthy 11 percent jump in overall bus ridership. This year, ridership on Rapid and Express buses is on pace to grow an additional 14 percent.


The reasons are varied, from gas prices to expanded service. But if the trend holds, transit officials say, it signals transit is beginning to woo its hardest fans, those higher-income suburbanites who are joined to their cars at the hip. It also could build support for bus and light-rail expansions.

No one is saying yet that the Valley has arrived as a big-league bus and rail town, like Los Angeles or Atlanta. But the signs of a deepening buy-in by the public are more pronounced.

"Commuters want this kind of service. They're sick of congestion and sick of unpredictability," said David Schwartz, executive director of Friends of Transit. "The biggest complaint I hear is: 'I live in - pick a community - when are we going to get it?' "

Until recently, buses have historically been the domain of the working poor. In the Valley, the heaviest ridership occurs in dense central urban neighborhoods where three homes in 10 have no car.

According to a 2001 Valley Metro study, the average annual income of people who rode local buses was $26,000, compared with $49,600 for express riders.


'Choice' riders


Lower-income riders will remain the system's anchor. They need and demand transit more. But to put a greater dent in reducing traffic and smog, transit officials also want to attract "choice riders," those who choose how to commute. That means running service, by bus or light-rail, into middle-class suburbs.

Valley Metro, or the Regional Public Transportation Authority, now runs 19 Rapid and Express routes.

In coming years, the commuter routes will expand dramatically.

Last month, RPTA got its first check from Proposition 400, which was approved two years ago and will inject $3 billion into expanding and improving bus service over the next 20 years.

The first of those changes will occur this summer, when a new rural bus route to Wickenburg begins and 62 new buses arrive, most to replace aging vehicles.

Over the next two decades, RPTA will bring in 2,100 new buses and add as many as 31 express routes. It will also improve service on as many as 34 local streets where buses cross city lines. The RPTA board authorized last week spending $630,000 to move ahead with half a dozen studies to plan long-term bus service.


The first big boost in Rapid service comes in 2008, when six new routes begin. Next year, RPTA adds a single Rapid route to serve the north Route 101 loop.

"Prop. 400 allows us to go much further. We have an opportunity we haven't had in years, if ever. The sky's the limit," RPTA Executive Director David Boggs said.

Commuters choose the bus over their cars for a variety of reasons: time, money, employer discounts or peace of mind.

Laura Webb, who lives in Ahwatukee, began taking the I-10 line two years ago after she learned about it from word of mouth. The 46-year-old rides the Rapid to her job near the state Capitol, where she's a project specialist at the Department of Corrections. She first noticed people standing in the aisles about six months ago.

'Always on time'


"The buses have a good reputation. They're always on time - always," Webb said. "They're comfortable, the air-conditioner works, and they give me a chance to catch (up) on my reading. And I don't have to put miles on my car."

The Ahwatukee park-and-ride lot fills quickly with all manner of cars, including a Jaguar or two along with the Hondas and family vans.

Perhaps the biggest boost to commuter buses has been gas prices.

"People who rode the bus in September when gas was $3 a gallon stayed with it," said William W. Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association. "In city after city after city, it's a pattern we're seeing. None of us knows if this is the start of a brand-new trend or another spike."

The Valley's rapid growth on the fringes also has fueled demand.


In recent months, officials from Anthem to Avondale to Pinal County have clamored for express lines. When the city of Surprise last fall asked for one ahead of schedule, Boggs, the RPTA director, worked out a deal with an out-of-state transit agency to get used vehicles fast. Within two months, Valley Metro had a bus on Grand Avenue, paid for by city money.

The household budget, with help from employers, also is driving demand.

A single Rapid or Express fare costs $1.75, 50 cents more than a local ride, or $51 for a monthly pass.

Brouillard, the east Chandler commuter, gets half off her monthly pass because her employer, JPMorgan, picks up the other half as part of a regional trip-reduction program to discourage solo drivers.

She saves about $1,900 in gas and parking, plus an additional $950 from wear and tear each year.

But that's not the biggest selling point. "I'll do anything to get in that HOV lane," Brouillard said.

By car, her 25-mile trip would take an hour, door to door. By bus, it's 45 minutes, including the drive to the park-and-ride lot.


Commuters still face many obstacles in making the bus system work for them.

Geoff Goodrich, 45, of northwest Phoenix, used to ride the 582 Express every day, going from the Metrocenter Mall to the Phoenix Art Museum, where he works as security chief.

But his work schedule changed. On weekends and later in the evening, he can't count on a bus. So, he rides it two or three days a week.

It's similar on other routes.

The last run of the evening for the Scottsdale Express, Route 512, leaves downtown Phoenix at 4:54 p.m. Because of traffic and distance, it doesn't reach the last stop at Palisades Boulevard until 6:23 p.m.

The Mesa Express, Route 540, pulls out of the Decatur Street stop at 4:50 a.m. but reaches downtown Phoenix until an "estimated" 5:40 a.m., according to the bus book, which advises passengers not to count on the schedule to make transfers.

Despite the limits, more commuters are giving it a try.

Goodrich said gas prices drove him to the bus at first, but after he began enjoying a cup of coffee and reading the paper on the way, he liked it.

"Even if it doesn't save me money, I'd still ride the bus just for the relaxation," he said. "Going home, there's not that hide-in-the-closet detox time after work. I do that on the bus."

Contact the reporter at (602) 444-8334 or

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