Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Don’t believe the gripe: Wisconsin air rating unfair

Last week the Wisconsin State Journal reported that Gov. Jim
Doyle had sent a ?secret? letter to the Environmental Protection Agency, asking
for a favor. The Journal learned this from the Sierra Club, which had had an
inkling the governor was up to no good.

It appears Mr. Doyle discovered late last year that some
parts of our state were in big trouble with the federal government over ?particulate
pollution? standards. Simply put,
many Wisconsin counties were exceeding federal standards for average daily
emissions of particles ? defined by the EPA as ?inhalable course particles.?

These particles pose
potentially serious health risks to many, especially those with prior
respiratory conditions such as asthma or lung disease. In fact, last year the
American Lung Association gave Dane County a ?D? grade for its inordinate
amount of particulate pollution. Apparently smokers are not the only culprits.


Typically the EPA responds to these ?non-compliance?
situations by requiring offending counties re-evaluate their pollution controls
and possibly put in place new ? and often costly ? technologies to reduce
emissions. That is why in Milwaukee County, for instance, car owners are
required to get their vehicles checked for ozone emissions, while drivers in
Dane County do not.

To prevent such measures, Mr. Doyle is trying with all his
might to get the EPA off our case. In his letter pleading for mercy, the
governor asserted new state regulations would bring all of Wisconsin into
compliance by 2015. Bruce Nillis, attorney for the Sierra Club, was quoted by
the Journal as saying the administration ?is gambling with people?s health.?

Despite all this, the governor?s reasoning makes sense. It?s
not our fault. It?s their fault.

By ?their,? I mean the federal bureaucracy. You see, until
two years ago Wisconsin had no problems with the feds. The daily emission
average was capped at 65 particles per meter cubed, and Wisconsin counties were
well within the limits. But in September 2006 the EPA, responding to exactly
the type of concerns outlined earlier, lowered the limit by almost half ? to 35
particles per meter cubed.

Since then, counties across the country have not been
allowed a grace period to adjust to the new standards. In fact, the EPA, when
determining if a county is in compliance with its standards, uses emissions
concentration data from the past three years to conclude what each county?s
daily and annual averages for particle emissions are. That means that a
county?s particulate emissions in 2004 and 2005 ? before the standards were
changed ? may very well be the determining factor in the EPA?s decision to levy
penalties against it.

Ultimately, this means Wisconsin counties will be punished ex
post facto.

Some environmentalists, myself included, would not necessarily
refer to heightened regulation as punishment. However, the massive difference
in regulation between counties deemed compliant and those found to be
non-compliant puts the latter counties at such a disadvantage economically that
the policy effectively results in de facto punishment for many areas of

Tracey Holloway, a UW environmental studies professor
specializing in air pollution and its effects, explained to me that ? like any
bureaucracy ? the EPA runs on strict rules and does not recognize any gray area
with regard to its policy on particle emissions. Borrowing Ms. Holloway?s
expression ? there is a ?bright line? between compliancy and non-compliancy,
and this turns a very nuanced topic into a black-or-white issue.

This means that while counties that just barely miss the
mark are saddled with expensive and cumbersome reforms, those found to be
compliant by the skin of their teeth continue to pollute in the same reckless
fashion for the next three years.

This is not to say the EPA is wrong in having strict
standards. In fact, no matter what libertarians tell you, effective bureaucracy
is the cornerstone of good government. But in this particular instance the
evaluation method is simply misguided, and it should be reworked to target the
specific regional pollution problems.

As Ms. Holloway showed me, particulate pollution does not
have a universal source. Here in Wisconsin, much of the problem stems from coal
burning power plants, whereas in southern California the issue is more related
to transportation. Some parts of the Southwest find themselves dangerously
close to non-compliancy largely because of winds that kick up a lot of dust.

Locally it appears we are doing what we need to address our
own problems. Last year?s successful lawsuit against the university-controlled
Charter Street Power Plant was just the beginning. The MG&E power plant on
Blount Street just announced $10 million in renovations to reduce emissions in
response to community outcry against its poor environmental track record.

According to the EPA?s own projections, every Wisconsin
county will be comfortably below the 35 particles per meter cubed standard by

I cannot be sure of the governor?s motives in this
controversy. Mr. Doyle is a politician after all, and there is a politically
powerful business lobby he no doubt is eager to please. However, whether
heightened regulation is necessary or not, it is not fair for the federal
government to declare Wisconsin counties ?non-compliant? when they have been
playing by the rules they set every year.

Jack Craver ([email protected])
is a sophomore majoring in history.

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Badger Herald

Your donation will support the student journalists of University of Wisconsin-Madison. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Badger Herald

Comments (0)

All The Badger Herald Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *