Federal officials want to put Spokane on the nation’s short list of three cities with the worst carbon monoxide problems.
A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plan to redesignate Spokane from a “moderate” to a “serious” violator was published in Monday’s Federal Register.
If the EPA proposal stands, Spokane and Denver will join world-class polluter Los Angeles on a list nobody wants to make.
There were a few more candidates earlier this year, but they got a reprieve.
Phoenix and Las Vegas got an extension until December, and U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, blocked EPA from spending any money to redesignate Fairbanks this year.
The EPA is moving ahead with Spokane’s proposed redesignation because the city flunked the federal Clean Air Act standard four times in the last year, a period when only one carbon monoxide violation is allowed.
That meant the city didn’t qualify for an extension.
Spokane business leaders are fighting the “serious” designation because of its stigma for downtown development.
They say it’s ridiculous to be included in the same category as Los Angeles when Spokane has made major progress toward cleaning up its air.
Their solution? Move the air-quality monitor at Third and Washington that’s registering the carbon monoxide violations.
“The community is being unfairly victimized on the basis of questionable data,” said Dan Kirschner of the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce.
Last Friday, the chamber released a report challenging the monitor’s location at Third and Washington, next to Empire Ford’s service entrance and vehicle drop-off zone.
That’s where all four of the 1995 carbon monoxide violations were measured.
“It’s located in a place that’s likely to bias the sample,” Kirschner said.
Spokane’s air quality specialists agree that questions about the monitor need to be cleared up.
“We’d encourage EPA to give Spokane time to look at the numbers,” said Ron Edgar of the Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority.
County Commissioner Steve Hasson, chairman of the SCAPCA board, doesn’t like the chamber’s strategy.
“They are in full denial over there. You don’t move the goalposts if there’s a problem; you work on the problem itself.”
Spokane’s topography lends itself to “complex” air problems, Hasson said.
“It’s not that we’re extraordinary polluters. But we’ll never arrive at a solution until our primary premise is there’s a significant health impact from bad air, ” Hasson said.
The Empire Ford monitor may actually be fairly representative of pollution problems along congested Third Avenue, said Grant Pfeifer of the Washington Department of Ecology.
“Traffic is getting busier in Spokane. The town is growing overnight. That part of Third Avenue parallels a freeway, and there’s a lot of jockeying for lane changes. It’s an interesting street,” Pfeifer said.
Air quality officials are supposed to look for the worst areas and monitor them, Pfeifer said.
“You go after the trouble areas, where pollution is likely to be at its worst. Safety margins are set that way,” Pfeifer said.
It’s not the first time that Spokane business leaders have suggested moving a carbon monoxide monitor.
In the 1980s, they complained when the monitor outside Jack and Dan’s Tavern on North Hamilton was showing high carbon monoxide readings.
But EPA and Ecology officials concluded the North Hamilton monitor accurately measured carbon monoxide levels in the ambient air.
Getting the “serious” designation actually will buy Spokane more time to clean up its air - until the year 2000. If the air remains dirty, the federal government could withhold federal transportation money.
“It will mean we have more time to come into compliance. We’ll have to do more to clean up our air, ” Pfeifer said.
The EPA is accepting public comment on the redesignation proposal through July 31 before making a final decision later this year.