Metro Charlotte suffers from a problem that every growing metropolitan area continuously faces: poor air quality. In spite of her crown jewels such as Bank of America and the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte has a nasty penchant for ground level ozone and smoggy mornings. Upon approaching Uptown via Interstate 77 during the treacherous morning commute, you can see the slightly opaque haze that masks the skyscrapers and other scenery. A similar scene can be imagined for the evening commute, as suburban denizens return home and go about their evening activities. Although oddly capturing, this ominous white curtain has been a painful thorn in Charlotte's foot for some time now.
This chronicle begins in 2007 when Metro Charlotte recorded 56 ozone days, far higher than suggested healthy standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency. November 2008 brought further woes to the area when the EPA said that both North and South Carolina's state improvement plans (SIPs) inaccurately predicted
air quality data in comparison to local monitors. Local and state leaders in various industries tried to devise new plans to appease local environmentalists and business leaders.
Despite plans to resubmit new SIPs quickly, the clean air battle with the EPA reached a critical point in 2009. Charlotte's continuous smog problem pushed the EPA to consider confiscating federal highway funds from the metropolitan area
, pursuant to the Federal Clean Air Act, if changes were not made immediately. The regulatory agency issued a deadline of May 8, 2011, for the area to clean up its act or lose crucial monies that fund "up to 80% of capital transportation projects," according to the Charlotte Business Journal (CBJ). This "revocation" of transportation funds for major roadways could seriously hamper regional development efforts and hurt the sparkling appeal of the Queen City, to say the least. Wanting to avoid this disaster scenario, local and state leaders started racing to construct plans for reducing emissions and improving air quality.
The next decade saw major progress in Charlotte's clean air saga, in addition to failures. In early 2013, the American Lung Association (ALA) issued Mecklenburg County's 24-hour particular pollution the grade of "A" while issuing ozone pollution a "F."
ALA also issued a "Pass" to the county's annual particle pollution assessment. Although the county failed the ozone assessment, the county continued to see a major decrease in ozone days, per ALA data. In addition, a CBJ article highlighting the ALA's findings stated the Charlotte region "placed first amongst cleanest metropolitan areas in the country for 24-hour particle pollution," another major accomplishment for the area.
The most recent success in the region's clean air battle arrived recently from Washington, D.C. Thanks to cooperation amongst area leaders, the EPA will soon approve Metro Charlotte's clean air
standards, lying in the form of reaching "attainment" of the EPA's 8-Hour Ozone statue
from 1997. A CBJ article documenting this recent achievement states that the EPA reached this decision via "air quality monitoring data from 2008 through 2010." North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, who is also the former mayor of Charlotte, said the move by the EPA embodies "successful collaboration" amongst local and state leaders. McCrory was the mayor during the latter part of the clean air battle with the federal government.
As the region continues its robust growth and transformation, air quality will always remain at the nexus of regional development, notably business and commerce. These sectors played a major role in developing those SIPs back in the late 2000s and will partially govern the next SIPs in the coming decade. Aside from big business, the individuals of the metropolitan area simultaneously govern how the Queen City will handle air quality issues in the near future. Therefore despite recent advancements, ozone pollution and emissions control will continue to grip the Queen City for the years to come in the familiar light of anthropogenic climate change.