Watching Our Ozone Weather
  Solving the Problem

Given the effort and resources that governments devote to controlling surface ozone, why are we still experiencing ozone overexposure, and how can we solve the problem? Reducing ozone concentrations means changing the way we get and use energy. That change entails shifts in thinking, and short-term spending for long-term gain in public health. In the past, considerations about public health have not driven most business and private decisions about energy sources and use. Since 1970, the Clean Air Act has exempted the oldest, dirtiest coal-burning power plants from complying with modern emissions standards. These older power plants emit as much as ten times more nitrogen oxides and other pollutants than modern coal plants (American Lung Association 2002). However change is in the wind, so to speak. Based on a 1998 rule by the EPA (the Ozone Transport Reduction Rule), many states have adopted legislation for controlling NOx from power plants.

Another reason for the continuing problem with ozone stems from the choices we make about transportation. Individual cars emit much less pollution than they did fifty years ago, but a lot more cars are on the road today, and they are traveling a lot more miles—in fact, four times as many miles. In 1970, Americans traveled 1 trillion miles in motor vehicles, and in 2000 they traveled about 4 trillion miles (EPA 1993). Another element in the pollution mix is that buses, trucks, and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) legally exceed the standards applied to other vehicles.

windmill image

Electric power generation accounts for about 20 percent of the nitrogen oxides that contribute to surface ozone formation. Wind energy provides a non-polluting alternative. At the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service’s Conservation and Production Research Laboratory in Bushland, Texas, wind turbines generate power for submersible electric water pumps. (Photograph courtesy of Scott Bauer, Agricultural Research Service, USDA).

Government activities alone cannot achieve healthy levels of ozone. Individuals can reduce ozone pollution by using energy efficiently and by increasing the use of renewable energy sources such as wind, sun, water, and geothermal heat. A multitude of resources on the Worldwide Web offer suggestions for individual actions to improve air quality.

Clearly the tropospheric ozone problem challenges our capacity to change, but it’s a problem we can solve. With international cooperation, a strong scientific basis on which to make legally binding agreements, and activities at the individual level, we can regain a healthy level of ozone in the air we breathe.

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