Kentucky’s Air Quality Success Story

Did you know that, in Kentucky, the concentration of acid-rain-causing sulfur dioxide in the ambient air has been reduced 81 percent since 1981? How about the fact that smog-forming nitrogen oxides are down 52 percent in the same time period?

Kentucky’s air quality has improved significantly in the 40 years since the Clean Air Act was passed. Making this downward trend in pollution levels all the more remarkable, Kentucky has seen continued economic development and population growth over the course of these past four decades. Our improved air quality is a significant achievement considering that economic and population growth results in additional pollution sources from expanded industry, more traffic, and greater energy demand in a state that obtains roughly 96 percent of its electricity from coal. Yet as the economy has more than tripled, air quality has continued to improve – proof that environmental protection and economic development can go hand in hand.

“The Energy and Environment Cabinet (EEC) takes seriously its mission to balance environmental protection with smart energy strategies that bring economic benefits to the Commonwealth,” said EEC Secretary Leonard Peters. “These improvements in air quality highlight how local and state governments can work with business and other interests in a community to do what is best for both the economy and the environment.”

Take a look at this graph to see Kentucky’s air quality success story for yourself.  The graph shows a clear downward trend for the six pollutants that are classified and regulated as “criteria pollutants” by the U.S. EPA, relative to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).

This chart shows the trends in individual pollution levels over time. While individual pollutants may spike in certain years, the overall trend is a decline in pollution levels. Pollutants are shown in terms of percentage of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) because different pollutants are measured in different scales, making direct comparison difficult.

Better air quality in Kentucky is due to a combination of regulatory and voluntary programs put in place by local, state and federal governments. These pollution reductions have had a profoundly positive impact on ambient air quality and public health for the citizens of the Commonwealth.

“Despite the fact that our air quality is better than ever, there is always more work to be done,” said Division for Air Quality (DAQ) director John Lyons. “Kentucky will face new challenges in coming years to meet more stringent air quality standards and rules as required by the Clean Air Act.”

For a more in-depth look at the status and trends of air quality in Kentucky, check out this presentation developed by Division for Air Quality staff. DAQ Director John Lyons recently spoke to these trends and successes at the 2012 Governor’s Conference on Energy and the Environment.