Air Resources Management
The air we breathe in many U.S. cities is being polluted by activities such as driving cars and trucks; burning coal, oil, and other fossil fuels; and manufacturing chemicals. Air pollution can even come from smaller, everyday activities such as dry cleaning, filling your car with gas, and degreasing and painting operations. These activities add gases and particles to the air we breathe. When these gases and particles accumulate in the air in high enough concentrations, they can harm us and our environment. More people in cities and surrounding counties means more cars, trucks, industrial and commercial operations, and generally means more pollution. EPA's Office of Air and Radiation offers information about specific air pollutants.
Air pollution is a problem for all of us. The average adult breathes over 3,000 gallons of air every day. Children breathe even more air per pound of body weight and are more susceptible to air pollution. Many air pollutants, such as those that form urban smog and toxic compounds, remain in the environment for long periods of time and are carried by the winds hundreds of miles from their origin. Millions of people live in areas where urban smog, very small particles, and toxic pollutants pose serious health concerns. People exposed to high enough levels of certain air pollutants may experience burning in their eyes, an irritated throat, or breathing difficulties. Long-term exposure to air pollution can cause cancer and long-term damage to the immune, neurological, reproductive, and respiratory systems. In extreme cases, it can even cause death.
Listed below are issues affecting air quality, our health, and the environment.
- Acid Rain
- Air Quality Index
- Climate Change
- Haze & Visibility
- Indoor Air Quality
- Ozone Depletion
- Smog, Particles & Other Common Pollutants
- Toxic Air Pollutants
- Vehicles and Engines
Role of Tribes
EPA recognizes the primary role for tribes in protecting air resources in Indian country. Tribes have express authority under the Clean Air Act (see the Plain English Guide to the Clean Air Act) to manage air quality on their reservations. The Tribal Authority Rule (TAR) identifies those provisions of the Clean Air Act for which it is appropriate to treat tribes in the same manner as states (TAS). The TAR lays out the eligibility requirements to apply for any one of a number of Clean Air Act (CAA) programs. In addition, the TAR describes the kinds of financial assistance available to tribes interested in pursuing an air quality program. The TAR is the key to tribal implementation of the CAA.
EPA's direct implementation role under the CAA calls for administering CAA mandated programs in Indian country in instances where a tribe is not administering provisions of these programs. The programs currently available for EPA's direct implementation include the CAA Title V Operating Permit (Part 71), Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) Construction Permits, New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) and Attainment Status Designations for criteria pollutants. EPA's role also includes compliance and enforcement actions when necessary.
EPA established Federal Implementation Plans (FIPs) referred to as the Federal Air Rules for Reservations to cover 39 Indian reservations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho are covered by a Federal Air Rules for Reservations. By means of these rules, EPA Region 10 imposes regulatory requirements on industry and residents of reservation, similar to those imposed by the rules of state and local air agencies in the surrounding areas. These rules are an important step to ensuring that basic air quality protection is in place to protect health and welfare on Indian reservations located in the Pacific Northwest. Although not required to do so, a tribe may both apply for TAS and develop its own air quality control plan, called a Tribal Implementation Plan (TIP), for approval by EPA. A TIP enacted by a tribal government and approved by the EPA is legally binding under both tribal and federal law and may be enforced by the tribe, EPA, and the public. Besides TIPs, there are other CAA programs for which tribes may receive approval or delegation, such as Title V permit program, New Source Performance Standards, and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants.
To assist tribes, EPA is working to provide technical assistance and air program resources to build tribal capacity. In addition, EPA is working to develop federally-based programs to enable EPA to address air quality problems in Indian country in cases where a tribe may be unable to do so themselves.
In 2005, the good work of tribal air quality program management continues with 120 tribes receiving air grant support; over 150 air quality monitors measuring air quality in Indian country; eighteen tribes with final emissions inventories submitted to the National Emission Inventory; and over 50 Tribes participate actively in Regional Planning Organizations. In addition, 20 tribes have received delegations of CAA authority under the Tribal Authority Rule and two tribes have submitted TIPs for approval, with several more under development. With each passing year, more tribal environmental professionals receive training in various aspects of air quality management and take further steps toward development of comprehensive tribal air quality programs. In addition, tribal officials engage on the national level in policy workgroups and advisory committees.
Regulation of Air Emissions in Indian Country
The CAA regulates EPA to regulate emissions of toxic air pollutants a wide array of activities and facilities. As a result, owners and operators of facilities in Indian country need to determine whether air pollution sources (known as "listed source") are in Indian country. If such a source exists, a construction permit and an operating permit are required. Construction permits are required for all new stationary sources and all existing stationary sources that are adding new emissions units or modifying existing emissions units. Operating permits (also known as Title V permits are required for all major stationary sources. Operating permits for minor sources may also be required. EPA issues Title V permits (called part 71 permits) to sources in Indian country on a case-by-case basis. EPA's Frequently Asked Comments About Permits provides important information to facility owners and operators in Indian country. Owners and operators of air pollution should take advantage of the many EPA compliance and technical assistance tools, including checklists and brochures, that are designed to help regulated facilities comply with the standards. These tools are available on EPA's Technology Transfer Network (PDF) (6 pp, 40K, About PDF).
Chemical Emergency Preparedness and Prevention
The CAA (Section 112r) and EPCRA chemical accident prevention provisions require facilities to report on hazardous chemicals they store or handle. These two laws provide an array of complementary information on what chemicals are in the community: what chemicals are present at each location, what hazards these chemicals pose, what chemical releases have occurred in the area, and, what steps industry is taking to prevent additional accidents. The information can be used to enhance the community emergency response plan and protect tribal communities from chemical hazards.
Boiler Operations. Air emissions from boilers (steam generating units) may be regulated under the CAA in order to limit SO2, PM, and NOx emissions from boilers built after certain dates and toxic air emissions. If the CAA is applicable, the tribal government or other owner/operator is required to obtain a permit and meet emissions standards depending on the heat output of the boiler and date of boiler construction. If the boiler is a major source under the CAA, a Title V Permit is also required.
Cooling Systems. Cooling systems contain refrigerants, such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or ammonia. If released, CFCs harm the environment by depleting the stratospheric ozone layer. The CAA requires maintenance of cooling systems to be conducted by certified personnel who are using certified equipment and following specified guidelines for reclaiming CFCs. The storage and use of ammonia may require reporting under EPCRA or CAA Section 112(r).
Lead Paint. Lead-based paint is typically removed from bridges by sandblasting or abrasive blasting prior to refurbishing and repainting. Sandblasting/abrasive blasting removes the existing paint with high velocity sand or synthetic particles. This process could contaminate the air with lead dust, and soil and water during disposal or spills of lead-contaminated sand/abrasive and paint chips. Where possible, blasting should take place in such a way as to contain and or prevent releases of lead-contaminated materials to the environment. RCRA and TSCA regulate the disposal of materials contaminated with lead-based paint. Prevention of lead dust releases may be regulated by the CAA.
Traffic management includes designing roads and bridges, access points, and traffic signals, and it affects the environment by impacting motor vehicle emissions. Increased access points to major roads generally lead to more traffic, while new traffic signals often lead to increase emissions from engine idling.
The Federal Highways Administration (FHWA) within the Department of Transportation and the BIA provide information to tribes developing traffic management plans. When developed, each traffic management plan would conform to a CAA Tribal Implementation Plan (TIP) or Federal Implementation Plan (FIP) applicable to the tribe's reservation. The TIP or FIP will account for the air pollution associated with the tribe's traffic management actions.
FHWA's Transportation Planning Procedures and Guidelines Web site provides guidance for tribes and BIA to use when addressing transportation issues and this document meets the intent of the Federal Lands Highways Program (23 USC 204), the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, (25 USC. 450), the Roads of the BIA (25 CFR Part 170, and the Indian Reservation Roads Program Stewardship Plan. The document, rather than utilizing predetermined criteria that may not be applicable to tribal needs, provides a basis for developing goals and strategies that will lead to good decision making.
Motor Vehicles and Engines
Mobile source air toxics (PDF) (5 pp, 16K, About PDF) are compounds emitted from highway vehicles and non road equipment which are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health and environmental effects. EPA's Transportation and Air Quality program protects public health and the environment by regulating air pollution from motor vehicles, engines, and the fuels used to operate them, and by encouraging travel choices that minimize emissions. These "mobile sources" include cars and light trucks, large trucks and buses, non road recreational vehicles (such as dirt bikes and snowmobiles), farm and construction equipment, lawn and garden equipment, marine engines, aircraft, and locomotives.
Mowing is typically done by gasoline-powered mowers that can pollute the air with particulates, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and noise. While mowing activities are generally exempt from EPA regulations, the engines of the mowers themselves are required to meet federal specifications designed to reduce emissions. EPA's first set of emission standards for small engines typically used in lawn and garden applications took effect in 1997. A second set of more stringent emission standards took effect in 2001 and is currently being phased in through 2007.
Combustion, or incineration, reduces the volume of waste that must be disposed in landfills, and can reduce the toxicity of waste. Combustion can also result in significant energy and material recovery - waste combustion can be used to generate energy, and in some cases, the ash that is generated can be recovered and beneficially-used (e.g., as landfill cover, or as aggregate in asphalt concrete).
Air emissions from both municipal waste combustors and hazardous waste combustion units are regulated under the CAA. In addition, combustion ash must be managed as potentially hazardous waste under the purview of the RCRA, and must meet all applicable federal and state regulations for disposal. EPA provides significant information on solid waste combustion/incineration and hazardous waste combustion.
Backyard burning refers to the burning of household trash by residents on their own property. Trash typically burned can include paper, cardboard, food scraps, plastics, and yard trimmings -- essentially any materials that would otherwise be recycled or sent to a landfill. Burning usually occurs in a burn barrel, homemade burn box, wood stove, outdoor boiler, or open pit. Air emissions from backyard burning are released directly to the atmosphere without being treated or filtered. For information on Backyard Burning see EPA's Basic Information on Backyard Burning Web site.
Why People Burn their Trash
Backyard burning is common in many areas of the country. People burn trash for various reasons-either because it is easier than hauling it to the local disposal site or to avoid paying for regular waste collection service. In the past, backyard burning may have been the only way that many rural Americans could get rid of their waste. Today, however, almost everyone can obtain reasonably priced waste collection or take their waste to a conveniently located drop-off center as alternatives to backyard burning. Many tribal governments prohibit or restrict some or all backyard burning of waste. Even where restrictions exist, however, many people continue to burn.
It's a Health Hazard
Most people who burn their waste do not realize how harmful this practice is to their health and to the environment. Current research indicates that backyard burning is far more harmful to our health than previously thought. It can increase the risk of heart disease, aggravate respiratory ailments such as asthma and emphysema, and cause rashes, nausea, or headaches. Backyard burning also produce harmful quantities of dioxins, a group of highly toxic chemicals that settle on crops and in our waterways where they eventually wind up in our food and affect our health. The EPA's Human Health page provides more information about the dangers of dioxin.
Burn Barrel Science
Typically, dioxins do not exist in materials before they are incinerated, but are produced when waste is burned. Significantly higher levels of dioxins are created by burning trash in burn barrels than in municipal incinerators. Household burn barrels receive limited oxygen, and thus burn at fairly low temperatures, producing not only dioxins, but a great deal of smoke and other pollutants. Unlike the barrels and boxes used in backyard burning, large incinerators are required by EPA regulations to have stringent pollution control systems that reduce dioxin emissions primarily by preventing their formation. Backyard burning is also particularly dangerous because it releases pollutants at ground level where they are more readily inhaled or incorporated into the food chain. For more information on dioxin formation and sources, visit EPA's Draft Dioxin Reassessment.
For related information visit EPA’s National Indian Country Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Priority site and EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Program in Indian country site.