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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

EPA Rollbacks On Air Quality Rules Worry Wisconsin Health Advocacy Organization

Susan Bence
Oak Creek power plant

It’s no secret that U.S. environmental standards are shifting. President Donald Trump has been candid in his resolve to ease regulations. And in early December, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plans to revise air pollution rules.

The American Lung Association in Wisconsin is among the groups concerned about where the changes could lead.

READ: The State Of Wisconsin's Air

Good Neighbor Rule

A decade ago, the EPA established guidelines commonly called the good neighbor rule. It regulates air pollution generated in one place that “wafts” across state boundaries, contributing to poor air quality.

Dona Wininsky, with the American Lung Association in Wisconsin, says the rule has been a huge component of the Clean Air Act.

“Because if you just think logically, air pollution travels. It doesn’t just sit in the place that is was created, and Wisconsin has actually been the recipient of pollution from other states. And people who live in lakefront counties particularly from Racine all the way up, know how frustrating it is to be told that they are going to have unhealthy ozone levels coming up the lakefront from Chicago and even places like Indiana,” she says.

"If we would simply keep the existing rules in place — not rolling anything back, not passing any new laws or new rules — we would meet the federal ozone standard by the early 2020s," says Dona Wininsky.

Wininsky calls the rule a step in the right direction. As a result, she says, air quality improved along the east coast of the country.

But Wininsky says there still is room for ozone improvement in other places, including in Wisconsin communities along Lake Michigan.

Recently, the EPA announced it will no longer enforce the good neighbor rule.

“States have already asked for help that it would not help them with emissions coming from other states but the agency," Wininsky says.

The EPA says air quality data and modeling predict that within five years more stringent standards won’t be necessary.

Carbon Emissions Rule

The EPA also plans to drop the carbon emissions rule. It applies to restrictions for new coal-burning power plants. Under the rule, plant owners would be required to incorporate technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions.

EPA acting administrator Andrew Wheeler spoke out against the measure, saying it would excessively burden America’s energy providers.

Wininsky thinks otherwise. While the rest of the world is trying to curb carbon emissions, she says the U.S. is officially closing its eyes to climate change.

“This week world leaders are meeting in Poland to advance climate solutions, but the U.S. is not part of that,” she says.

Wininsky says if the U.S continues to roll back protections, air pollution and climate change will worsen in coming years.

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Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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