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Setting, and Meeting, Air Quality Standards
The quality of the air is one of the most important components of life. Air pollution can hinder normal activity and cause severe health impairment; it can damage trees, crops, and other plants and animals; it can impact water quality and obstruct vistas. Regulations governing air quality play a role in where industries locate, how much energy is used, how we travel, and how our transportation systems grow. Recently, President Obama decided not to reevaluate air quality standards for ozone prior to the 2013 deadline set by the Clean Air Act. The Chicago region has not met air quality standards for many years, and how we continue to develop land and the transportation network will greatly impact future air quality and quality of life for residents.
The Clean Air Act, which went into effect in 1970 and underwent a major update in 1990, sets national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS). Congress identified six "criteria" pollutants that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) is charged with regulating: ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, lead, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. While the Bush Administration established a new ozone standard in 2008, the standard was higher than an independent science advisory panel recommended. While the U.S. EPA considered more strict ozone NAAQS this year, President Obama directed the agency to withdraw the draft on September 2 due to the regulatory stress it would place on local and state governments, as well as the fact that work was already underway to update standards by the 2013 deadline.
The Chicago region has not met the standards for ozone and fine particulate matter for many years, according to CMAP's air quality snapshot report from 2008. In recent years, though, improvements in automobile and truck engines, cleaner fuels, and controls on stationary sources like gas stations, dry cleaners, factories, and power plants have improved our air substantially. One way CMAP is working to improve regional air quality is through allocation of Congestion Management and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) program funds. The draft 2012 to 2016 CMAQ Program allocates over $411 million in transportation projects to both improve the region's air quality and manage congestion. If approved by the CMAP Board and MPO Policy Committee at their joint meeting on October 12, the 115 projects will address all facets of the region's transportation network, improving highway corridors, building new bicycle paths, and developing new transit service, notably along the soon-to-be-rebuilt Jane Addams Tollway. Selected by committees of subject-matter experts and stakeholders based on competitive proposals, the proposed projects respond to priorities recommended by GO TO 2040, which emphasizes investments to maintain and modernize the existing transportation system.