Now for Something Completely Different…or How About Some Good News?

Planning Assistance in Action

By Kristen E. Humphrey, MLA, Infrastructure and Development Planner
and Angelo Bianca, Deputy Director of Air and Radiation Management Administration, Maryland Department of the Environment

We hear so much these days about humanity’s negative environmental impact, from our contribution to climate change, the dumping of plastic in oceans, and the reduction of species diversity across the globe, ushering many into extinction through the deforestation of jungles and the poaching of exotic animals for trophies. Some also fear the uncertainty around federal environmental regulations may threaten to send us backward in our domestic and global efforts to keep the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land we cultivate safe from contamination.

But what if there are some bright spots amongst these reports? Here in Maryland we are seeing some significant strides made in the area of air quality. According to the Maryland Department of the Environment’s (MDE’s) 2019 Clean Air Progress Report there is some really good news to celebrate! 

“Maryland’s air quality continues to improve. Emissions of criteria pollutants continue to decrease because of federal and Maryland regulations, improvements in technology and good operating practices from businesses. These impacts are experienced within the state and extend throughout the northeastern states….      

[In fact], for  nearly 20 years,  Maryland’s air quality  has improved. Maryland is in compliance with federal air quality standards for four of the six criteria pollutants: carbon  monoxide (CO), lead (Pb), nitrogen dioxide (NO2 ), and particulate matter.” 

While the other two criteria pollutants, ozone and sulfur dioxide, are not yet fully compliant, Maryland is making considerable progress in reducing emissions and meeting air quality standards. Ozone reduction in particular has been substantial, as seen in the graphic to the right. The maps show improving ozone concentrations over a 16-year period, from 2002-2018. The key indicates that at a concentration of 70 parts per billion (ppb) or less, represented by light to dark green, Maryland is in compliance for ozone. The dark red and purple shades, on the other hand, indicate pervasive high ozone concentrations throughout the state. 

Beginning in 2010, there were counties to the west in compliance, with noticeable improvements statewide; by 2014 nearly half the state is in compliance; and, by 2018, approximately two-thirds of the state is in compliance. As the report states, “[These] improvements occurred as federal and state policies were implemented to reduce ozone forming emissions. The yellow and green dominance in recent years illustrates the success of these programs.” 

Improvements of this order are no small feat when one stops to consider that, unlike land, air knows no boundaries.Also, even if point sources of pollution are addressed within Maryland, there is little within the state’s control in adjacent, upwind states. This is called “transported air pollution.”

Maryland has pursued several initiatives and projects in order to achieve these results, including:

  • Seeking various legal remedies to address transported air pollution 
  • Reducing nitrogen (NOx) emissions from electricity generators 
  • Updating regulations for emissions from municipal waste combustor
  • Continuing to take on climate change by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
  • Engaging in scientific studies to try to understand the complex relationship between higher ozone levels and large bodies of water such as the Chesapeake Bay 
  • Tackling the enormous problem of clean air and transportation 

In terms of clean air and transportation, the state is spearheading and/or participating in a number of programs such as: Clean Cars Program Emergency Regulation, Volkswagen Mitigation Plan, Port Partnership and Idle Free MD. We will take a closer look at several of these efforts in upcoming issues of Planning Practice Wednesday, beginning with Idle Free Maryland in September.

In the meantime, to read MDE’s 2019 Clean Air Progress Report and learn more about these projects and programs, visit their website at or contact Angelo Bianca, Deputy Director of Air and Radiation Management Administration, Maryland Department of the Environment at or (410) 537-3260.

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