By Brian Brus
The Journal Record
OKLAHOMA CITY – Based on Oklahoma City metro smog ratings last year, it’s highly likely the area will fall out of federal compliance this summer, said Eric Pollard, manager of the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments’ Clean Cities program.
The repercussions for exceeding smog standards will be costly, he said, but offset by a slight delay.
ACOG is preparing to launch its smog-fighting campaign at the beginning of April. Efforts will include public notices via social media; meetings with regional governments, businesses and other organizations; and partnerships with public transit agencies to encourage people to share rides.
Ozone is a gas that mixes with fine particle pollution near ground level to create smog, which can cause difficulty breathing and serious health problems over time. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has maintained a standard that air must contain no more than 70 units of smog for every billion units of air in order to be considered healthy. Large cities like Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Lawton regularly skirt that limit.
Ozone levels are routinely monitored at six locations in the region, revealing episodes of elevated readings that occasionally exceed the daily standard. Those days are characterized by hot, sunny days; cloudless skies; light south, southeasterly or east winds; and high background levels of ozone and ozone precursors associated with an inbound air mass.
Pollard said last year the metro registered its highest number of smog exceedances since 2013. The organization issued 10 ozone alerts.
Because of the way the federal attainment schedule works over multiple years, central Oklahoma’s non-attainment designation will not have an effect on its record for a few years, Pollard said. Once that happens, however, federal funds for roads, bridges and highway projects will become more difficult to secure.
Michael Scroggins, spokesman for the city’s Embark transit system, said free rides will be offered on buses and the downtown streetcar on the third Friday of each month from May through September to encourage ridership and reduce vehicle emissions overall. Embark tried to synchronize free service with ozone alerts in previous years, he said, but it was too difficult for the public to pay attention to notices.
Scroggins said the city’s fleet continues to be upgraded to alternative fuels and more efficient models to reduce costs.
At the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, road construction crews are often scheduled to work during lighter traffic periods to reduce traffic jams and related problems, spokeswoman Brenda Perry said. It also help reduces smog creation.