Tell EPA: Don’t block cleaner air and hundreds of millions of dollars for biking, walking and transit in the region

Funding for dozens of new transportation projects are at risk. At-risk projects include bus rapid transit, protected bike lanes in Chicago, suburban bike trails, the Lake Front Trail Flyover, Chicago’s bike share program, and CTA station repairs, among others.

That’s because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the Chicago region now meets federal air quality standards and, as such, potentially loses roughly $80 million per year in funding for transportation projects that help reduce air pollution, called the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) fund. In total, 115 CMAQ projects totaling $411 million over five years are at risk.

The EPA is relying on air quality data through 2010, but air pollution levels actually exceeded standards in 2011. The EPA wants to use a technicality to exclude the 2011 data.

If the EPA changes our air quality designation, the CMAQ dollars would not be eliminated until Congress passes a new transportation bill—but that could happen as soon as this spring.

Meanwhile, the Illinois EPA (not the same as the U.S. EPA) says the region still has an air quality problem and that the 2011 data bears that out. If CMAQ dollars are lost, it will be more difficult to achieve air quality standards in the long run.

Please email the U.S. EPA by 5 p.m. on Thursday January 19 and tell them the Chicago region has not resolved its air quality problems, and that the EPA should use 2011 air quality data and keep in place CMAQ funding for clean air transportation projects.

Your support could make an important difference. Thanks!

Comments should be emailed to:
Attention Docket ID No. EPA–HQ–OAR–2008–0476.

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Coal Plants

EPA attainment areas are done by county, so the State Line plant - in Indiana - doesn't necessarily count towards emission standards in Cook County if they are doing source-point readings...ambient readings are another story. Secondly, State Line was not shut down by the EPA; it's owner, Dominion Resources, voluntarily decided to shutter it by 2014 because it didn't want to retrofit the facility. As for the Pilsen coal fired plants (Crawford and Fisk), there are no immediately plans for shutting them down by the EPA. The City of Chicago and Alderman Joe Moore tried to push through a municipal-scale Clean Air Act last January/February, but it never left committee and likely wouldn't have withstood a judicial test.

Also, realistically, it doesn't matter if we pay more for energy, at least in as much as it impacts these dollars. They are taken from the Federal government, which means they come from tax dollars we have already paid. If we don't take the money, it doesn't mean we don't have to pay for them. It just means that they will go to Los Angeles, New York, Houston, or virtually any other large city which is a non-attainment area.

Can't have it both ways

With the State Line and Pilsen coal-fired power plants being shuttered by the EPA, Chicago will be meeting air quality standards going forward. This is one situation where the EPA is right.

If Chicagoans are going to have to pay more for power, we should not also have to pay more in taxes for transportation subsidies that we no longer qualify for.

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