By: Joe Minott, Clean Air Council Executive Director
The American Lung Association published State of the Air 2015 yesterday, showing mixed progress in improving the nation’s air quality. The annual report shows that, thanks to the Clean Air Act, many communities across Pennsylvania have better air quality today than they have in years past. For example, both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh recorded their lowest levels of year-round particle pollution since the report began, though both cities still failed to meet the national air quality standard.
While more needs to be done to reduce pollution in and around those two metropolitan areas, we’re moving in the right direction because of deliberate measures that fight dangerous particle pollution. The Clean Air Act works.
Unfortunately, the parts of our state where shale gas drilling has exploded in recent years received less encouraging news.
Five Pennsylvania counties with a drilling industry presence received a failing grade of F for air quality in the report: Allegheny, Armstrong, Erie, Indiana and Mercer. Five other drilling counties were not far behind with a D grade. What’s worse is that air quality data is not available for a number of our counties with drilling activity, so we don’t even have a complete picture of the state of our air.
This report is a clear sign that we aren’t doing enough to protect Pennsylvanians from harm.
We need strong rules that limit air pollution from natural gas operations, including the volatile organic compounds that contribute to ozone pollution. The best way to do this is to require the natural gas industry to seal their equipment and pipelines against methane leaks. This action will have the added benefit of reducing emissions of a potent greenhouse gas.
As recent public interest in oil and gas regulations has shown, drilling and non-drilling communities alike are demanding that we hold the shale gas industry accountable for the harm it inflicts on our health and the environment. This report shows where to focus our efforts, and that investing in strong rules can deliver cleaner air for all Pennsylvanians.