Collins, Whitehouse, Carper Request GAO Review of Air Quality Monitoring Networks

Washington, D.C. -Today, a bipartisan trio of Senators from states that cope with cross-state air pollution requested a review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) operation of the nation’s air quality monitoring networks.  Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Tom Carper (D-DE) asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for a top-to-bottom review of the EPA’s air quality monitoring work, including a look at whether the networks yield enough good-quality data to effectively protect vulnerable populations from the dangers of air pollution. 

“These networks play a critical role in protecting public health, especially for children, seniors, and members of other vulnerable populations and disadvantaged communities with chronic and acute health problems such as asthma,” the Senators write.  “These air quality monitoring networks are increasingly important in implementing and tracking compliance with the Clean Air Act, protecting public health, sharing monitoring data with other agencies, state and local governments, and the public, and informing policy decisions.”

 

Air pollutants, such as ground-level ozone and particulate matter, are serious threats to public health.  Emissions carried on prevailing winds from smokestacks in the Midwest, for instance, often end up in downwind states like Maine, Rhode Island, and Delaware.  Such pollution has led to higher observed rates of asthma and other serious ailments. 

 

Full text of the Senators’ letter is below.  Click HERE to view a copy of the letter.

 

 

November 16, 2017

 

 

The Honorable Gene L. Dodaro

Comptroller General

U.S. Government Accountability Office

441 G Street, N.W.

Washington, D.C.  20548

 

Dear Mr. Dodaro:

We write to request that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) evaluate the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) air quality monitoring networks for ambient and hazardous air pollutants. These networks play a critical role in protecting public health, especially for children, seniors, and members of other vulnerable populations and disadvantaged communities with chronic and acute health problems such as asthma.

 

The EPA operates multiple networks to monitor compliance with the Clean Air Act’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards and to track hazardous air pollutants regulated under the act. These networks include the State and Local Air Quality Monitoring Network, the National Air Monitoring Network (which targets areas of high population density with a variety of air pollution sources), Special Purpose Monitoring Stations (used for short-term studies and other purposes), Photochemical Assessment Monitoring Stations (used to measure pollutants that contribute to ground-level ozone, a harmful air pollutant), and the National Air Toxics Trends Stations, among others.

 

These air quality monitoring networks are increasingly important in implementing and tracking compliance with the Clean Air Act, protecting public health, sharing monitoring data with other agencies, state and local governments, and the public, and informing policy decisions. Given the importance of these networks, we request that GAO respond to the following questions, with an emphasis on data quality, the siting and operation of monitors, trends in public health, the effects of air pollution on vulnerable populations, and shifts in the sources of air pollution, including those associated with vehicles, and industry:     

 

  1. What strategies does EPA use to deploy and operate its air quality monitoring networks?
  2. What improvements, if any, are needed to guide EPA’s air quality monitoring networks?
  3. What is known about the performance of EPA’s air quality monitoring networks with respect to the number and location of monitors, data quality, and the suitability of data for measuring progress toward air quality standards and other purposes?  

 

Thank you for your assistance with this request.  Should you or members of your GAO staff have any questions about this request, please coordinate with Aaron Goldner (Senator Whitehouse) at (202) 224-2921, Laura Gillam (Senator Carper) at (202) 224-8832, and Olivia Kurtz (Senator Collins) at (202) 224-2523.