Conversation with Sean Alteri, the new Director of DAQ

You’ve worked for DAQ for more than 16 years. Can you tell us a little about your past experience at the division?

Sure.  I began my career with the Division as a permit engineer in the metallurgy section of the permit review branch in 1997.  As a permit engineer, I reviewed and processed air quality permit applications, primarily for Kentucky’s aluminum and steel industries.  I also worked in the Emissions Inventory Section (EIS) that maintains the tracks the emissions from stationary sources.

In 2002, I became the supervisor of the Regulation Development Section in the Program Planning and Administration Branch of the Division.  In that position, I led the Division’s efforts in drafting and promulgating air quality regulations.  The experience provided an education and insight of the interaction between the legislative and executive branches of government.  In my role in the Regulation Development Section, I developed a strong appreciation for the Clean Air Act, its amendments, and its effectiveness.  

After serving as regulation development section supervisor, I accepted a position to manage the Technical Services Branch.  As branch manager, I provided oversight and direction on the ambient air monitoring network operations and the observation of stack tests at stationary sources.

Prior to being appointed Director, I served as the Assistant Director for five years.  This experience allowed me to learn the day to day operations of the agency, including the budget process, to compliment the technical experience I acquired in my previous positions.  Under John Lyons’ direction and leadership, I worked with EPA leadership and the regulated community on the complex issues facing air quality agencies.

What is your management style?

Similar to the Division’s current transition in leadership roles, I am finding that my management style is evolving.  As a supervisor and manager, I tended to review all aspects of a project and focus on the minute details. In the role of director, I understand that I must delegate responsibilities and obligations.  As I delegate and direct more projects, I still share my knowledge, experience, and passion; however, I see myself as more of an observer and a peer reviewer of the final product.

How have the priorities for DAQ changed in recent years? 

When I began my career more than 16 years ago, the Division was focused on implementing the Title V permit program for large sources of emissions.  To implement this new permit program, the Division had to issue an incredible number of Title V permits that, for the first time, included all of the emissions units at a particular source.  Prior to that, a company could hold as many as 20 individual permits.

After addressing the initial Title V permits, the Division turned its attention to the implementation of control technologies for hazardous air pollutants.  DAQ is responsible for implementing and enforcing these federal standards.  Much like the Title V permit program, the Division’s mission and goal focused on the implementation and administration of these requirements.

During the last five to six years, the Division has been actively engaged in the rulemaking process.  DAQ has the authority for implementing and enforcing the federal Clean Air Act standards in Kentucky, so we found it prudent and appropriate to offer constructive suggestions for EPA to improve their rulemakings.

What’s one of the biggest challenges you face in your job?

The obvious answer is the budget situation that is presented to all government agencies.  However, specifically relating to air quality issues, educating the general public on the significant air quality improvements is a challenge.   The mass media sometimes fails to acknowledge the substantial reduction in emissions over the past few decades, particularly from coal-fired power plants.  Obviously, there is much more work to do, but I do think people should be aware of the real improvement of Kentucky’s air quality — improvements that have been measured through our ambient air monitoring network.

What’s one of the most rewarding aspects of your job?

It may sound cliché, but I recognize the difference that the Division makes in improving the environment.  As a data nerd, I enjoy reviewing ambient air data and relating that data to the implementation of additional air pollution controls.  When a new scrubber becomes operational, I try to determine the effect the controls are having on reducing pollutant concentrations.  When the desired results of our air control strategies are achieved, I gain a sense of satisfaction and realize that our agency is continuing the hard work of those that came before us.

Where do you see the agency in five, 10, 20 years?

As information technologies continue to advance, the Division will be able to relate air emissions data with the ambient air monitoring data in real-time.  In the near future, the Division will be position to better determine the “cause-and-effect” of air pollution.  Not necessarily from a health-impact, but from a pollutant concentration aspect.

Also, in recent years, the development of personal ambient air monitors is an exciting area of emerging air pollutant measurement technologies.  In the near future, citizens will be able to use a phone application to determine recent, if not real-time, air quality measurements.  As these instruments are further developed and refined, I am cautiously optimistic that personal monitoring devices will be able to provide quality data.