By Candia Dames
WASHINGTON – Marylanders are breathing much cleaner air than they did 30 years ago, according to a report released Thursday by the Foundation for Clean Air Progress.
The report was immediately attacked by environmental groups who said the industry-funded foundation was using outdated standards to buttress its claim that the country can have healthy air without sacrificing the economy.
But foundation President William D. Fay defended the report and singled out Maryland for specific praise.
“It looks like Maryland has done better than the nation in terms of air pollution reductions,” Fay said. “All of this has come at a time when we’ve seen a tremendous [population] growth in Maryland.”
The report found that tailpipe emissions have seen the greatest decline nationwide. Fay said Maryland’s progress stands out because it is a small state that is very urbanized and has benefited greatly from an overall improvement in transportation technologies.
While the nation experienced a 20 percent increase in nitrous oxide — which is largely responsible for smog — Maryland saw only a 2 percent increase.
The report, “Breathing Easier About Energy,” compared the period 1985-87 and 1997-99. It said that while energy consumption in Maryland increased by 13 percent between those periods, air pollutants fell measurably. Volatile organic compounds — which form from motor vehicle, power plant and other emissions — declined by 44 percent, it said, and carbon monoxide emissions dropped by 31 percent.
Even as air quality has improved dramatically throughout the nation, the foundation noted that another study found that 66 percent of Americans believe air quality has gotten worse in the last 10 years.
“The data illustrate that energy consumption is not incompatible with America’s quest to improve its air quality,” Fay said. “But we are by no means saying let’s build 75 more power plants or let’s drive a thousand times more than we do.”
Dan Meszler, director of Energy and Environmental Analysis Inc., which did the report for the foundation, said the nation’s healthier air is a direct result of the Clean Air Act’s strong emissions-control regulations.
Meszler said his organization analyzed data from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy in reaching its conclusions. But Clean Air Trust spokesman Frank O’Donnell said the report was misleading.
“They are at least half right. Air has become cleaner since the Clean Air Act,” O’Donnell said. “But they are using antiquated standards that no longer reflect the state of today’s science.”
He accused power plant operators of having a hidden agenda. “They are trying to soften up the media,” O’Donnell said.
But the numbers are clean, Fay insists.
“It’s because we are industry funded and people might be skeptical about us that we bend over backward to ensure that the data we release is good data,” he said. “You can’t refute this date because it’s the government’s data.”
Fay said, however, that the job of attaining even cleaner air is still not done. Air-quality standards for smog are still not being met in Baltimore and the District of Columbia, he pointed out.
That appears to be the only thing the two sides agree on.
“We’ve made some progress, but we still have a long way to go,” O’Donnell said.