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Energy & Environment

Report Says Laws Help Improve Region's Air Quality

Blue sky over uptown Charlotte
David Boraks

An annual report out this week shows air quality in North Carolina and other southeastern states is continuing to improve. Federal and state laws have made the difference, but there's concern lawmakers may try to weaken those rules. 

The report from the American Lung Association shows ozone and particle pollution declined across the state between 2013 and 2015. Charlotte and Raleigh were the only places with problems, but even they’ve improved, says the group’s Deborah Bryan.

"By and large we have seen great improvements thanks to the federal Clean Air Act that was established in the 1970s and then North Carolina's Clean Smokestacks Act from 2002," she said.  

The state law required electric utilities to cut emissions from coal-fired power plants. Bryan says that has helped reduce the number of warning days for high levels of ozone – a pollutant formed when emissions from cars and industrial plants react to sunlight.  

The 12-county Charlotte region still has high-ozone days - about four a year. But they're at the lowest level since the annual reports began 18 years ago – when the city averaged 92 a year. Raleigh still has occasional warnings for unhealthy levels of small particle pollution, but continues to improve.

Bryan says she's worried that in the current political climate, lawmakers might try to roll back anti-pollution laws.

"What is so critically important is that we keep these strong protections in place. It's so easy to take good things for granted when we have them, and can't appreciate what it took (to get them)," Bryan says.

The annual report analyzes air quality data collected by the EPA. 


Find the American Lung Association report for North Carolina at WFAE.org (PDF)