We're in, we're out: This month's biggest nonevent could be the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's announcement that Lucas and Wood counties are back in compliance for smog-forming ozone, one of six major classes of air pollution regulated under the Clean Air Act.
Normally, it would be big news. Asthma sufferers would no longer be pitted against industrial lobbyists and made to feel guilty for coveting clean air over dirty economic expansion.
It's passe this time around because we're only now coming into compliance for ozone regulations written in 1997. They took effect in 2004 after seven years of litigation and a Supreme Court challenge.
The U.S. EPA has said it will announce plans for an even tighter standard by March 12. Nobody realistically expects Lucas, Wood, and dozens of other counties near metropolitan areas to remain in compliance. The regulations are supposed to remain in sync with the latest in pollution-control technology, although they rarely do because of politics.
Bottom line: Like a lot of industrial hubs, the Toledo area is on the fence post. Air quality is better than it was years ago but something less than what it should be.
Yes, we can all do our part on Ozone Action Days by carpooling, fueling up after 6 p.m., putting off mowing or painting for another day (my favorite contributions to society), or whatever. But this tap-dance will continue until more changes are made in energy and transportation. Many coal-fired power plants still don't even have 1970s-era pollution-control technology. And many of us can't fathom the thought of driving to a PTA meeting in something other than a sport utility vehicle or a tank-wannabe.
If you think Lake Erie's shallow now: Wait to see if predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration come true. NOAA announced Wednesday that Lake Superior - the mother of all Great Lakes - is nearing a record low water level this month.
That's bad news from Duluth to Montreal, because each of the other Great Lakes are fed by Superior. Some 529 billion gallons of water are displaced for every inch Lake Superior loses. And Superior's average water level has plunged two feet in the last decade.
Climate change skeptics can say what they want. But the Great Lakes region has had warmer winters since 1997. Contrary to what you might think, winter is the cruelest time for the lakes in terms of evaporation - not our muggy summers. That's because there's a greater disparity between air and water temperatures in winter. The lakes are protected when they freeze. But that's happening less frequently and in shorter durations. Plus, the snow on the Canadian side of Lake Superior - a major source of water for that lake - isn't as heavy as it was years ago.
Speaking of ballast water: A federal judge on Wednesday upheld Michigan's attempt to defend its waters from invasive species by dismissing the powerful shipping industry's challenge to that state's new permitting system for discharging ballast water. Ballast water is, of course, the No. 1 pathway for exotics.
A bill was introduced in Columbus that same day to give Ohio the authority to create its own permitting system for ships that ply through the substantial part of Lake Erie that's under the Buckeye State's jurisdiction. Ohio legislators are expected to consider it this fall.
Michigan and Ohio likely would have never taken it this far if the federal government had simply done its job. Look for other Great Lakes states to follow suit.
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