2013-06-20 / Letters

Letter to the Editor

To Allan Burke, and the readers of the Emmons County Record:

In response to your May 9th column, we are aware that the lignite coal industry and their allies have been misrepresenting North Dakota’s grades in our State of the Air Report. If this has caused any confusion, let’s be clear: burning coal adds to the state’s air pollution, and air pollution is a serious health concern. Exposure to either ozone or particle pollution can cause wheezing and coughing; trigger asthma attacks, and even cause heart attacks and premature death.

To understand why North Dakota earned such good grades in the 2013 report, here’s some background:

The American Lung Association’s letter grade is arrived by a simple process: North Dakota maintains eight permanent air quality monitors that measure the two major categories of air pollutants, ground-level ozone and particle pollution. The data from these monitors are sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which verifies the data to ensure the clean air standards are met. The American Lung Association uses the EPA-verified data to give letter grades and city rankings in its annual air quality report. Under this process, a city like Bismarck gets top marks for air quality, and most of the counties with air monitors receive “A” grades.

The 2013 State of the Air Report for North Dakota shows that only half of the state’s monitors provided enough data for theAmerican Lung Association to issue a grade on particle pollution, the type of pollution most associated with coal-fired power plants. In addition to relatively few monitors, many other factors contribute to the state’s good grades for air quality, including mostly flat geography, strong winds and relatively light population density.

An “A” grade for a county does not mean that people living there will not have health effects related to air pollution. As we learn more about the health effects of air pollution, we need our national air quality standards to be set where they truly protect public health. The American Lung Association has fought long and hard to get these standards strengthened, we have also fought to strengthen the cleanup of sources of these pollutants, especially coal-fired power plants.

North Dakotans enjoy relatively clean air, but there is room for more improvement. Just as in school, good grades on one report card are no reason to stop working to do even better.

We believe North Dakota should continue to seek cleaner sources of electrical power and transportation fuels to ensure that our air remains clear and healthy for everyone.

Robert Moffitt is a spokesperson for the American Lung Association in North Dakota.

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