Strategic shutdown of pollution monitors kills
Instead of writing an overly angry article about the poor results of the latest global climate talks, I ate a second leftover turkey sandwich to calm myself down. Reading some new papers nicely complements the tryptophan-induced haze during this lovely break.
As you know, we get too excited about niche topics here. One of my favorite questions to ponder is where and when to monitor air pollution. What Max? Isn’t the answer “anytime, anywhere”? Do not! Monitoring air pollution can be expensive.i’m not talking about display type You can (and probably should) buy one for $200 to measure how slowly your natural gas furnace is killing you. I’m talking about regulatory grade monitors used to determine if your local air catchment is compliant with everyone’s favorite environmental regulation – the Clean Air Act (CAA). These things can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and must be in place and run at EPA-mandated intervals.
Why are we doing this? CAA requires regulators to know the air quality where many people live and where it is the worst. So they put the monitors in two types of setups. CAA passes so-called National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS—pronounced “knacks,” as in “knick-knacks”), and then by handing over the equivalent of a lump of coal to bad counties (non-compliant ) to play Santa and ignore well-behaved counties. The coal is said to be in “non-compliance status,” meaning the state where the county is located must work with the county to return to compliance. OKstage is for a great new paper go through Eric Zou, Mu Yingfeiand Ed Rubin (Proud Berkeley alumni!).
An economics treatise won’t evoke the same emotions as the opening scene of The Sopranos, but it might just be the first time! In their opening paragraphs, the authors use “Bridgegate” to set the stage. In September 2013, an irate New Jersey governor closed lanes of traffic on the George Washington Bridge, which of course is one of the major traffic arteries into Manhattan, in what was described as an act of political retaliation. Meanwhile, a nearby pollution monitor that had dutifully recorded air quality for decades went offline. coincide? I think not! We know traffic congestion can make air quality worse! So smart governors might want to make sure that political games don’t lead to air quality violations. The best thing to do is to turn it off. Don’t step on the scale on Black Friday. Don’t take your blood pressure when Germany lost 1:2 to Japan. same idea.
Image licensed and available under Creative Commons here.
Therefore, the paper asks whether local managers have an incentive to turn off monitors when air quality is poor. Of course they have! Failure to comply with federal regulations is a huge pain! You must take costly steps to restore compliance. But you’re asking if the local administrator is allowed to turn off the monitor? Yes they can! The EPA allows each monitor to miss up to 25% of its scheduled data each quarter (oversimplification, but that’s a blog post). Finally, how do they know that the monitor should be turned off? Does it need a bridge? Do not! Most state air quality agencies conduct air quality forecasts. So they have better information than you and I (or frankly the federal government).
So this paper does something very subtle. Kind of like lobster three ways. First, it checks for monitoring interruptions (not readings!) that occur on local severe air quality alert days. Second, they mapped the locations of “suspect monitors” and found 14 metro areas with clusters of unusual outage behavior. They then used fancy statistics to characterize counties with interesting monitoring patterns and found that the counties’ CAA compliance Status plays a role. For example, being in a non-compliant (non-attainment) county makes a monitor 64% more likely to be suspicious. While the more interesting counties you would worry about are those that are in “good” counties, if the readings Poorly, they could go into non-attainment. Papers can show you that too. They do more and show significant evidence that strategic shutdowns stem from state and local governments avoiding or mitigating non-attainment Motivation for compliance penalties.
So why should we care about a bunch of pollution monitors being turned off for strategic reasons? Let me do the math. Air pollution is bad for you. Every published paper I’ve read recently shows that we’ve been systematically underestimating the health effects of air pollution on sensitive and less-sensitive populations, including born and unborn children. Negative effects on mortality, morbidity, and cognitive function are off the charts. Regulation exists for a reason. If you violate the standards, you have a responsibility to affect change through local action. Being allowed to turn off monitors locally is similar to allowing police officers to turn off their own body cameras.or allow volkswagen monitor own emissions. That doesn’t mean all of these actors are acting in bad faith, but it allows a few bad apples to continue acting like bad apples. This paper presents evidence for this, but also forensically using statistical methods to detect individual bad actors. I plan to read the paper again. It’s that good.