Air quality data presented to area officials today at the Council of Governments showed there were only four unhealthy Code Orange days and none of the more serious Code Red days in metropolitan Washington this summer. This is the first time the region has recorded two consecutive summers with no Code Red days since the color-coded levels were introduced.
The COG air quality data highlighted a continuing trend that hot and humid summer days no longer guarantee that the region will exceed federal health standards. In 2014, the region had 14 days over 90 degrees but just four days that exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s ground-level ozone standards.
Officials at the joint meeting of COG’s air quality and climate and energy groups lauded the combined actions at the federal, state, and local government levels and by businesses and individuals to reduce air pollution, but agreed there is more the region must do to protect the health of area residents. They also discussed working together more closely in areas like the environment, transportation and land use to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
To meet COG’s regional goals of an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2050, Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner said “we’ll need an all-hands-on-deck approach where all sectors work to identify new solutions and ways to bring them to market, and where we really advance game changers that will make a true and lasting difference in how we power our economy and remain leaders in the national and global economy.” Berliner serves as Chairman of COG’s Climate, Energy and Environment Policy Committee.
COG also released The Gold Book, a new edition of a report that draws attention to local and state initiatives that have helped clean the air and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including green power purchases, expanded transportation options, and sustainability plans. Falls Church Vice Mayor David Snyder, Chairman of the Metropolitan Washington Air Quality Committee, said the report gives local governments “a chance to learn from each other and expand their local environmental protection activities.”
At the end of the meeting, officials approved a resolution for COG to convene a new multi-sector working group to explore establishing a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target to be considered for the regional transportation plan. The group would also consider how to identify viable local, regional and state actions in all sectors that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, such as transportation and buildings, and jointly develop a specific action plan.
The 2014 air quality data showed the region is now closer to meeting federal ozone standards, although EPA is currently considering more stringent ones to further protect public health. Ground-level ozone is a colorless gas created when air pollutants react on hot, sunny summer days. High concentrations of ozone can cause shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, fatigue, headaches, nausea, chest pain, and eye and throat irritation.
Earlier this year, COG submitted and EPA has proposed approving a plan showing the region meets standards on a different form of air pollution—fine particles—another sign of metropolitan Washington’s ongoing air quality progress.