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DEQ tasks locals with solving ozone issue

Posted: Thursday, Feb 23rd, 2012

With some 25 members ranging from local residents to Sublette County Commissioners, the Upper Green River Basin Air Quality Citizen Advisory Task Force held its first meeting at the Sublette County Library in Pinedale on Tuesday. The mission: assist the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) with solving the ground level ozone issue in Sublette and surrounding counties.

Since 2005, the DEQ has been monitoring ground level ozone – a secondary pollutant formed by complex photochemical reactions between nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the presence of sunlight – and, once monitoring began, the department discovered elevated levels – ground level ozone is considered elevated when it reaches 75 parts per billion.

The concern over ground ozone peaked in December when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), based on a recommendation by former Gov. Dave Freudenthal, deemed all of Sublette County, and portions of Lincoln and Sweetwater Counties, a nonattainment area.

With ozone’s potential to negatively affect a person’s lungs and respiratory system, the DEQ and residents alike realized the issue needed to be solved, prompting the DEQ to put together the task force.

“The purpose we have is to consider and advise,” John Corra, director of the DEQ and task force leader, said. “[The task force] is not an appointed group to supervise the DEQ, it’s not an oversight committee and we’re not handing over the reins of the overall ozone solution. We’re saying there is a lot you all can do to help solve this issue.”

Appointed by the DEQ, members of the task force represented all parties concerned, including Commissioners Joel Bousman and Andy Nelson, Lincoln County Commissioner Kent Connelly, Shane DeForest of the Bureau of Land Management, representatives from oil and gas companies Exxon-Mobil, Encana and Ultra Resources and Pinedale residents.

The members of the task force far outweighed the number of community members who attended the meeting, but Corra repeatedly emphasized the importance of public involvement as they would be the ones most affected by the ideas, and hopefully solutions, of the task force.

Following the lengthy introduction, facilitators Elizabeth Spaulding and Steve Smutko, both from the University of Wyoming, introduced Darla Potter from the DEQ’s Air Quality Division (AQD), who gave a presentation on the history and current state of ozone in the area.

Potter’s presentation was broken down into four parts: what we know about ground level ozone, what the DEQ has been doing, winter 2012 and what the future holds.

Historically, Potter explained, scientists believed ozone could not be formed during the winter months, but that idea was trumped when the DEQ-AQD discovered ground level ozone occurred between January and March in this region.

Meteorological conditions need to be just right for ozone to occur, Potter explained, and some years the area saw zero days of elevated levels.

“Local meteorological conditions are the single most important factor contributing to the formation of zone,” she said.

Monitoring and analyzing those conditions is something the DEQ-AQD has been doing to further understand ground level ozone in the Upper Green River Basin, and during the winter of 2010 the DEQ-AQD installed about 20 air-monitoring stations “to reduce and bank precursor emissions,” Potter said.

To better inform the public, the DEQ-AQD initiated contingency plans and public service announcements for “Ozone Action Days,” days when ozone is deemed elevated. Potter concluded her presentation by explaining the obstacles and opportunities to getting back into attainment.

Obstacles included weather, the EPA’s focus on urban instead of rural areas and the slow pace of development because ozone data needs to be evaluated over a three-year period. One of the biggest opportunities the area has for overcoming the ozone problem is the fact Utah is currently experiencing a similar wintertime ozone problem and drawing more attention to the issue.

The information was a lot to take in, and some task force members felt overwhelmed by an already daunting problem. One member said he was unsure what the task force, which lacked in scientists, could really accomplish.

“We’re not asking you to be scientists,” Corra emphasized.

Smutko also encouraged the group, telling the task force members not to underestimate what they were capable of doing.

“It doesn’t hurt to aim high,” he added.

With time running out, Spaulding and the task force began analyzing and dissecting the charter. Members voiced their opinions and changed words like “authority” to “scope,” and decided what is was they actually wanted to accomplish. Informing the public, advising the DEQ and making a commitment as members were top points.

Corra announced the task force would meet three more times and, provided progress is being made, would schedule more. Meetings will most likely be three hours long and scheduled around 5 p.m. on a weekday so working members could attend.

“This is something the governor of the state of Wyoming wants us to do,” Corra said. “You have my commitment that we will take this seriously and will seriously consider what comes out of these meetings.”

Meeting schedules, minutes and other information will available to the public via the DEQ’s website at www. deq.state.wy.us.

For the complete article see the 02-24-2012 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 02-24-2012 paper.

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