Indiana blames Chicago for smog violation

Hoosier state is challenging EPA findings

July 19, 2012

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(J. Million's via Flickr)
Northwest Indiana's industrial skyline as seen from Lake Michigan in Chicago.

It’s not every day the Republican administration of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels comes to the defense of the Democratic stronghold of Northwest Indiana.  

But it did on Thursday.

Daniels and fellow Republican Attorney General Greg Zoeller are challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's recent designation that Northwest Indiana is nonattainment for air pollution. Basically, air pollution rates are too high.

Daniels and Zoeller say the blame rests with big-city Chicago, not industrial Northwest Indiana.

“By arbitrarily lumping us in with Chicago’s dirty air, EPA has wrongly penalized Northwest Indiana even though Lake and Porter counties are within the proper ozone levels and the federal nonattainment designation would do nothing to improve air quality in the two counties,” Zoeller said at a press conference in the Northwest Indiana town of Merrillville.

“The State (of Indiana) will ask the federal appeals court to stay this EPA action before the burdensome new nonattainment permit requirements force local companies to move their expansion projects elsewhere due to cost.”

Zoeller filed a challenged Thursday in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.  The AG contends the EPA’s designation of nonattainment is for the metropolitan statistical area that goes from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Porter County, Indiana. Zoeller says smog from Chicago heads southeast into Northwest Indiana.

The nonattainment designation goes into effect next week. Zoeller says that could hurt Northwest Indiana’s drive to attract new businesses since additional expensive environmental requirements and regulations could be involved.

Daniels, who rarely misses an opportunity to take a shot at Chicago, says the EPA’s designation is unfair. 

“Indiana’s air is cleaner than it’s ever been in modern times. Every county in the state meets air quality limits for the first time in the history of the Clean Air Act, yet we’re about to be punished by the EPA because Illinois’ air doesn’t,” Daniels said in a written statement. “EPA’s restrictions make it harder to hire people, and we don’t want to lose jobs in Indiana, where the air is clean, because the air isn’t clean enough in Illinois.”

Daniels' administration contends the air in Lake and Porter counties has met the ozone standard and all other air quality standards since the end of the 2007-2009 measurement period, the first time under the Clean Air Act that all areas of the state have met air quality standards.

According to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Illinois exempted all vehicles produced before 1996 from its vehicle emissions testing program. That means older vehicles were not tested and repaired and affected the Illinois air monitor. In addition, air quality modeling shows that Milwaukee, which the EPA designates as attainment, contributes more pollution to the monitor that is over the standard than Lake and Porter counties.

Phillippa Cannon, spokeswoman for the EPA’s Chicago office, says Lake and Porter counties do in fact contribute harmful levels of ozone.

“In June, following careful technical review, EPA designated counties in the greater Chicago area – including Lake and Porter Counties, Indiana -- as nonattainment for the 2008 ozone pollution standard under the Clean Air Act. Ozone exposure is harmful to people’s health and can lead to premature death, especially in people with heart and lung disease,” Cannon told WBEZ.

“While Lake and Porter Counties in Indiana are not in violation of the ozone standard, they were found to contribute to harmful levels of ozone pollution in Lake County, Illinois and were included as part of the nonattainment area. EPA will review legal action filed today by Indiana’s Attorney General.”

Indiana’s reaction to the nonattainment designation is literally polar opposite from politicos on the Illinois side of the state line. Everyone from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn, along with U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk welcome the nonattainment status in order to continuing receive up to $80 million in federal funding through the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Improvement Program.

According to Durbin’s office, the CMAQ program has facilitated projects from improving bus service along the Jane Addams Tollway in suburban Chicago to roadway intersections through the area.

“The Chicago area has clearly made significant improvements to air quality and congestion over the past five years, but taking away the region’s eligibility for these important federal funds would jeopardize that progress and hurt future efforts to improve air quality,” Durbin stated in a news release last February.  “I commend the EPA for recognizing that Illinois officials must continue to have every tool at their disposal to maintain and improve the health and quality of life of Chicago area residents.”

Zoeller says that’s not the approach Indiana wants to take. He also said he didn’t know if the “politics” fits into the state challenging Northwest Indiana’s designation, even though it comes as Republican Mike Pence, a Congressman, is challenging Democrat John Gregg for Indiana governor in the fall.

Helping Northwest Indiana could aid Pence's effort to siphon votes away from Gregg, even in the Democratic stronghold of Northwest Indiana. Zoeller says he’s been in contact with Northwest Indiana elected officials who are concerned about the nonattainment designation.