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Breathing a little easier

Our area received some good news Monday.

That’s when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it had approved West Virginia’s request to redesignate its portion of the Steubenville area to attainment for the 2010 federal sulfur dioxide national ambient air quality standard under the Clean Air Act.

What that means is that residents of the region will be able to enjoy cleaner air, improved health outcomes and greater economic opportunities, EPA officials explained.

Our area was designated as being in nonattainment in 2013. The process of upgrading to attainment would have been complicated by itself, but it was made more challenging because of how our region is divided. The EPA considers the Steubenville area to include the city and Cross Creek, Steubenville, Warren and Wells townships in Ohio as well as the Cross Creek Tax District in Brooke County.

Ohio, however, is a part of the EPA’s Region 5 and West Virginia is in Region 3. And while area residents think nothing of traveling between Ohio and West Virginia on a daily basis — a trip that involves little more than driving across either the Veterans Memorial or Market Street bridge — for the EPA it means working through layers of bureaucracy that includes officials in Philadelphia and Chicago.

That could have played a role in Ohio’s portion of the area being approved for attainment late last year, many months before Monday’s announcement that the West Virginia portion had reached that goal.

Many factors are behind the improvement, including stricter regulations on local power plants and the Tri-State Area’s continuing shift away from industrial activity.

While there’s a lot of technical information behind the reduction of sulfur dioxide, it means that our air is cleaner and healthier, which is especially important for children, the elderly and those who suffer from asthma. It also means there is a lower probability that our region will experience haze and acid rain.

The EPA’s redesignation also is good for businesses — those that are existing as well as those looking at locating here — because they will face fewer permitting restrictions. That, the EPA said, could lead to further economic development and more jobs.

It’s easy to be critical of regulations, especially those handed down by the EPA, as Mike Paprocki, executive director of the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission, said Monday afternoon. But in this case, he added, there has been a positive result.

Add up the numbers and they show just how far our area has come since the mid-1970s, when Steubenville’s air quality rated the worst in the benchmark Harvard University Six Cities Study. That survey, which ran from 1974 to 1988, with a follow-up study in 1993, demonstrated a strong link between air pollution and mortality.

And it means that area residents can continue to breathe a little easier.

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