Door County Saddled with Urban Ozone

Although the air quality monitor at Newport State Park registers high levels of ozone, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is quick to point out that it’s not Door County’s fault.

“[Door County] is located downwind of several large urban areas, making it a recipient of ozone transport from upwind urban areas with high precursor emissions,” wrote the EPA in describing why it designated the portion of Door County north of the Sturgeon Bay canal as a nonattainment zone, an area with poorer air quality than the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

The report goes on to state that Door County doesn’t have many big ozone-polluting businesses and the county has a relatively low population, meaning vehicles are not a big contributor to the pollution. The EPA’s explanation is a response to Gov. Scott Walker, who wrote the agency in 2016 asking for no part of the state to be considered nonattainment.

He wrote, “Many areas of Wisconsin are threatened with the additional regulation that comes with a nonattainment designation with no ability to meaningfully influence the situation.”

The designation under the Clean Air Act means the state will have to develop and implement a plan to mitigate ozone pollution. But the EPA report stated much of the ozone pollution travels along the lake from Chicago and northwest Indiana. Since Wisconsin doesn’t have jurisdiction over businesses polluting in those states, it is unclear what steps Wisconsin can take to register clean readings at the air quality monitors in Door, Manitowoc and Sheboygan counties or whether the ozone mitigation plan will include restrictions on Door County businesses.

Wisconsin Fights Back

Walker’s 2016 letter to the EPA asking for full attainment hinged on the idea that it was not Wisconsin that was creating the pollution and that the state has already taken steps to curb air pollution.

“Given the positive trend in statewide ozone levels, and the continued cost and effort needed to implement the 1997 and 2008 ozone standards, it is unnecessary for EPA to designate additional nonattainment areas at this time,” wrote Walker.

State representatives from Sheboygan have taken a different route, putting forth a bill to get rid of the air quality monitor located at Kohler-Andrae State Park in Sheboygan County. The bill, authored by Rep. Jesse Kremer, prohibits funding and use of the air quality monitor that has registered Sheboygan County as nonattainment.

“Poorly placed monitors do not use science but rather a ‘perceived issue’ as justification for stiff bureaucratic policies and red tape,” said Kremer in a statement. “Policies set into action by unelected bureaucrats at the EPA have devastating outcomes.”

Conservation groups have blasted the bill for threatening public health, stating that removing the air quality monitor does not remove the pollution.

“By hiding the evidence of unhealthy air pollution, this bill would attempt to artificially show compliance with federal Clean Air Act Standards and thus allow for more pollution in the area,” said the League of Conservation Voters in a statement.

Door County has considered moving the air quality monitor at Newport State Park inland where it may not register such high levels of pollution from lake effect.

But Wisconsin may get the exception from EPA standards that it desires after a new appointment in the agency.

Former Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Secretary Cathy Stepp was appointed deputy regional administrator of EPA’s Midwest region, including Wisconsin, in December. She will oversee implementation of the Clean Air Act in the state’s nonattainment zones.

Stepp was seen as a bigger proponent of business and industry than natural resource protection while at the DNR. As Wisconsin moves forward with implementation of standards set forth by the EPA of a former administration, they will have a new friend near the top office.

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