Misleading Air Quality ‘Report’ is Straight Out of Anti-Fracking Group’s Manipulative Playbook
PennEnvironment — a “Keep It In the Ground” group that has never been shy about misleading the public — is up to its old tricks with its alarmist new air quality report entitled “Trouble In the Air.” Dismissing the dramatic air quality improvements achieved in the United States over the past five decades — the last decade’s worth which can be largely credited to increased natural gas use, made possible by fracking — the report presents an alternate reality that suggests U.S. air quality is poor and getting worse. From the report:
“In 2016, 73 million Americans experienced more than 100 days of degraded air quality with the potential to harm human health. That is equal to more than three months of the year in which smog and/or particulate pollution was above the level that the EPA has determined presents “little to no risk.”
Not surprisingly, PennEnvironment suggests banning fossil fuels is the only solution to the problem it purports exists.
“Much air pollution and global warming is a result of our reliance on fossil fuels. The nation should move as quickly as possible to clean, renewable sources of energy to meet our energy needs without contributing to global warming …”
Before diving into the methods PennEnvironment employed in order to churn out the scary numbers listed above, it is essential to emphasize this is the same group that tried to capitalize on the devastation Pennsylvania experienced from Hurricane Lee in 2011 by publishing a photo of a submerged drilling rig and sharing it on social media with the message: “Here’s more evidence Marcellus Shale drilling pads should NOT be allowed in floodplains.”
Turns out, the photo was of a flooded rig in Pakistan.
A few months later in 2012, the group tried to pass off an image of a South African pipe releasing treated water as an example of “toxic industrial pollution” from fracking occurring in Pennsylvania.
Suffice it to say, honesty is not this group’s strong point.
EID has also previously noted how PennEnvironment redefined the Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) classification of “violations” – they re-labeled administrative violations as more serious environmental violations – to attack Marcellus Shale operators. And in this latest air quality report, the group similarly redefines the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) air quality terminology to arrive at the most alarmist conclusion possible.
A quick glance at the following graphic from the report gives the impression that a vast majority of the United States is burdened with “elevated” ground level ozone and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution, to use PennEnvironment’s terminology.
But here’s the thing — a vast majority of the areas highlighted on this map are actually in attainment of EPA’s stringent National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Nonetheless, PennEnvironment includes many of these regions in its report by incorporating regions with “moderate” levels of pollution. As the following chart from the report shows, EPA’s “moderate” air quality category (highlighted in yellow) is comprised of areas with ozone and PM2.5 readings below EPA attainment thresholds (70 parts per billion for ozone and 35 µg/m3 ug/m3 for PM2.5).
PennEnvironment refers to these “moderate” pollution regions as areas with “elevated” pollution — which is patently false. If air pollution in these areas were truly “elevated,” as PennEnvironment claims, EPA would at the very least classify them in its “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” category. By manipulating EPA data and terminology, PennEnvironment is able to claim large swathes of the United States are regularly burdened with “degraded” air quality, when that simply isn’t the case.
PennEnvironment’s Pennsylvania-focused press release offers a prime example of how the group’s manipulation of EPA terminology allows it to make numerous alarmists claims throughout the report:
“In Lancaster, 539,137 people experienced 179 days of degraded air quality in 2016, equaling almost 1 out of every 2 days.”
PennEnvironment attempts to justify its manipulation with the following explanations:
“This report estimates the number of days of degraded air quality experienced in 2016 by people living across the country, based on the number of days when air quality monitors reported an AQI of 51 or higher. This includes days that the EPA coded as moderate, unhealthy for sensitive groups, unhealthy, very unhealthy and hazardous.”
“Levels of air pollution that meet current federal air quality standards can be harmful to health, especially with prolonged exposure. Researchers can detect negative health impacts, such as increased premature deaths, for people exposed to pollution at levels the EPA considers “good” or “moderate.”
“For these reasons, the analysis in this report includes air pollution at or above the level the EPA labels “moderate” and indicates in yellow or worse in its Air Quality Index.”
The United States’ air quality reality couldn’t be more different from what PennEnvironment claims. A new EPA report released this week shows that the number of days exceeding the “unhealthy for sensitive groups” level on the EPA Air Quality Index was 65 percent below 2005 levels in 2016.
That same EPA report shows that U.S. ozone and PM2.5 levels have fallen 22 and 36 percent, respectively, since 2005, which is accurately reflected in the following EPA graphics that show a vast majority of the country is meeting ozone and PM2.5 attainment standards.
And not only do the above maps show that a vast majority of the United States — and a vast majority of major oil and gas development regions, for that matter — are in attainment, the fact that ozone and PM2.5 levels are falling in the U.S. can be traced directly to a 23 percent increase in natural gas consumption since 2005. Natural gas emits far less nitrogen oxide (NOx) — a major ozone precursor — and virtually no sulfur dioxide, which combines with NOx to form fine particulate matter.
For perspective on how improved U.S. air quality stacks up with the rest of the world, the following graphics from the recent State of Global Air/2018 report shows PM2.5 levels are at extremely dangerous levels in much of the world, while levels in the United States are among the lowest in the world.
As this graphic shows, air pollution is a major problem in many areas of the developing world, which has literally resulted in millions of deaths. In fact, a recent study found “a “robust” link between air pollution and thousands of infant deaths in sub-Saharan Africa,” according to E&E News, which also notes:
“In many rural areas, wood is burned for cooking and warmth, leading to significant particulate matter levels…”
These real-world issues are a sharp contrast to the blatant misinformation churned out by PennEnvironment in its latest “report.” Air pollution and energy poverty are serious problems that are killing millions worldwide. But fortunately in the United States, increased use of clean burning natural gas and many of the modern amenities made possible by fossil fuels are literally saving lives.