At the urging of U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced that the City of Chicago and surrounding areas should remain eligible for federal funding through the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Improvement Program. It is estimated that losing this eligibility would have cost Illinois roughly $80 million in federal funding and jeopardized efforts to clean the air and reduce congestion. The revised designation was facilitated by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which submitted data to EPA to support Illinois maintaining its eligibility.
In Illinois, the CMAQ program has already facilitated projects ranging from the enhancement of bus service along the Jane Addams Tollway in suburban Chicago to roadway intersection improvements throughout northeastern Illinois.
"The Chicago area has clearly made significant improvements to air quality and congestion over the past five years, but taking away the region's eligibility for these important federal funds would jeopardize that progress and hurt future efforts to improve air quality," said Durbin. "I commend the EPA for recognizing that Illinois officials must continue to have every tool at their disposal to maintain and improve the health and quality of life of Chicago area residents."
A spokesperson for Kirk said: "EPA's decision means northeastern Illinois will continue to receive important resources to protect air quality and reduce congestion in the region. Our office will continue to work with Sen. Durbin and the Illinois congressional delegation to ensure Illinois remains on track to reduce pollution and boost economic productivity."
"We are pleased that the U.S. EPA recognizes the most recent data on the air quality of the Greater Chicago area, certified and provided by the Illinois EPA under my direction. We must ensure that Illinois receives adequate resources to improve air quality and reduce congestion," Governor Quinn. "While we have made great progress in air quality, there is more work needed to reduce pollution and clean our air. The health and safety of Illinois residents is our top priority, and we appreciate the work of the U.S. EPA in recognizing the continuing need."
"As the nation's most road congested region, we applaud the decision by EPA to use the most recent data to assess the region's air quality attainment status," said Mayor Emanuel. "We commend the Illinois EPA for their strong efforts in this matter, and we are committed to using the tools available to improve the region's air quality and move towards attainment of the national standard."
The EPA is in the process of designating areas that have achieved ("in attainment") or have not achieved ("nonattainment") compliance with 2008 ground-level ozone standards. A designation of "nonattainment" is required for a region to be eligible for CMAQ grant funding.
Recently, EPA issued a preliminary designation for northeastern Illinois an area "in attainment" thus making the region ineligible for important CMAQ funding. Data from 2008 - 2010 support EPA's finding of lower ozone levels in northeastern Illinois, but the 2011 ozone data certified by the State of Illinois show an increase in ozone and that the air quality improvement is not sustainable.
Concerned that Chicago and northeastern Illinois could be incorrectly placed into compliance and thus lose access to the tools needed to help the region achieve sustainable improvements in air quality, Durbin and Kirk asked the EPA to take into account the 2011 ozone data in their final designation. In a January 18, 2012 letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Durbin and Kirk wrote: "Better air quality is vital for the health and well-being of Illinois residents. Should northeastern Illinois lose its "nonattainment' status, CMAQ and many other programs that help reduce traffic congestion and pollution would no longer be available and citizens will continue to be subject to unacceptable levels of smog, associated with lung damage, asthma and respiratory difficulties."