Canadian wildfires can't cloud truth about region's air quality success

As Southeast Michigan awaits relief from the recent smoky skies the region has been enduring due to wildfires burning in Canada, residents can be assured that wildfire smoke aside, the region’s air quality is meeting the federal clean air standards for ozone, highlighting improved and dramatic gains over several decades to make the air we breathe healthy and safe.

Since the 1980s, stringent industry emissions regulations, implemented in large part through manufacturers’ investments in emissions control technologies, have resulted in Michigan’s most industrialized region achieving a real and very important level of clean air.

Through the federal Clean Air Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulates emissions that impact air quality. EPA recently redesignated the seven-county Southeast Michigan region as being "in attainment" – essentially saying the region is meeting all federal standards for ground-level ozone. In addition to achieving this standard for the period between 2019 and 2022, Michigan is on track to maintain it at least through 2035. This is real progress worth embracing.

Looking back further, concerted efforts by the nation’s manufacturers have consistently and measurably reduced emissions over many years. Nationally, between 1970 and 2021, the combined emissions of the compounds regulated by the federal Clean Air Act dropped by about 80%. EPA reports the key health concerning pollutants of carbon monoxide dropped 87%, nitrogen dioxide dropped 85%, sulfur dioxide dropped by 84%, lead 80%, particulate matter declined by 60% over that period.

At the same time Michigan has met stringent air quality standards, our state’s manufacturing employers have managed economic turbulence, a once-in-a-generation global pandemic, and the most rapid technological revolution in human history. While emissions dropped about 80%, the national economy has grown by 292% in gross domestic product.

Recognizing that some people have felt the effects of these smoke-filled days, it is important to emphasize that EPA has a mechanism for accounting for the smoke while still maintaining the fundamental air quality of the region. While some groups may advocate that EPA and the state use this exceptional smoke event to treat Southeast Michigan as communities with poor air quality status, doing so would be unmerited and have negative consequences for residents and businesses.

New and more federal regulations would not magically fan away the wildfire smoke but would be costly to implement and would impact both businesses and citizens in expensive and unnecessary ways. How? How about returning to the days of expensive annual emissions tests for your car, or restrictions on lawn mowing for the rest of the summer, or clampdowns on backyard barbecues and boating excursions and more this summer? Federal regulatory power extends beyond just manufacturers to include people, too.

Michigan Manufacturers Association supports state and federal agencies in their defense of Michigan’s positive air quality status, and the sound methodology by which these agencies assess air quality to protect public health and inform industry’s plans for regulatory compliance.

Michigan has done the right thing on improving the air we breathe, and air quality data taken over many years clearly demonstrates Michigan’s manufacturers are meeting ozone health-based standards and enabling Southeast Michigan to achieve a remarkable and much desired level of air quality — all while driving a historic economic recovery with the promise of record growth and innovation to come.

This article appeared as an op-ed in Crain’s Detroit Business in July 2023.

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Mike JohnstonMike Johnston
Executive Vice President of Government Affairs & Workforce Development
Call 517-487-8554