Awards: Air Quality Round Table
The Federal Highway Administration's
2003 Environmental Excellence Awards
Air Quality Round Table
Transportation-related air quality issues are a predominant concern in North Carolina. The U.S. Supreme
Court recently upheld the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) authority to establish air
quality standards at a level "requisite" to protect public health. When EPA implements its 1997
revised standards for ozone and particulate matter, the number of North Carolina counties projected to
be in violation of the standards may triple, and more than $1.5 billion in transportation projects may
be jeopardized. In order to protect the economic vitality of the state, North Carolina business leaders,
elected officials, community groups, and other stakeholders will need to achieve a common understanding
of the implications of the new standards and work cooperatively to achieve conformity.
The North Carolina Air Quality Roundtable is a workshop series that brings together stakeholders from
thirty different groups to cooperatively work to improve North Carolina’s response to air quality as
it pertains to transportation. The purpose of the Roundtable is to proactively address the way
transportation related air quality issues are communicated to North Carolina decision-makers and the
public from a multidisciplinary, multi-agency perspective. The intent is to develop and implement
action plans that will allow North Carolina to make non-attainment designations, prepare state
implementation plans, and implement air quality and transportation strategies in an efficient,
effective, and coordinated manner. The belief is that this strategy will help North Carolina by
improving interagency communications, proactively educating decision-makers, and raising air quality
as an environmental issue early in the transportation planning process.
Since 1990, North Carolina's public agencies have made great strides in integrating air quality
concerns into the transportation planning process. In the twelve years since the 1990 amendments to
the Clean Air Act, North Carolina has developed an effective interagency process for addressing air
quality issues as they relate to transportation. However, the implementation of the eight-hour
ozone standard and the new fine particulate matter standard (PM2.5) will likely increase the number
of North Carolina counties with transportation related air quality problems from 7 to 23. As a
proactive approach to this anticipated air quality issue explosion, the North Carolina Department
of Transportation (NCDOT) and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources
(NCDENR) teamed up. In the spring of 2001 they approached the Center for Transportation and the
Environment (CTE) seeking assistance in developing the expertise and capacity needed to smoothly
implement the new air quality standards. The result of these initial meetings is the North Carolina
Air Quality Roundtable.
The North Carolina Air Quality Roundtable operates in both a seminar and working group format to
identify key issues and bring relevant expertise to the forefront on these issues. (For example, it
is more efficient to use agency public information officers to develop communications plans with
the help of technical staff than for either group to do so in isolation.) The Roundtable members
are a broad cross section of the people working in the air quality field in North Carolina.
Roundtable participants include: NCDOT (including senior management, the Deputy Secretary for
Environment, Planning, and Local Government Affairs, the Chief Planning and Environmental Officer,
and the Board of Transportation), NCDENR (including senior management), CTE/ITRE staff, academics
from NCSU, FHWA (North Carolina Division and Office of the Natural Environment), USEPA (Region 4,
Office of Transportation and Air Quality, and Administrator's Office), the North Carolina Department
of Commerce, staff of the Governor's office, NC General Assembly, Association of County
Commissioners, NC League of Municipalities, the Capital Area MPO, the Mecklenburg Union MPO, the
Greensboro MPO, the Hickory MPO and other groups.
The first task of the Roundtable participants was to decide if such a diverse group could agree
on: the work that needs to be done, a set of common goals, and the messages to deliver. After
much deliberation they collaboratively decided that there was a significant advantage to working
together to meet transportation and environmental needs and this format could indeed be successful
in achieving their goals. The Roundtable then identified the following issues in which it will
work to improve North Carolina’s response to the new air quality standards: 1) to educate
decision-makers and the media on air quality issues, potential actions, and the consequences
of those actions; 2) to coordinate educating the general public as to their role in battling air
quality problems and steps they can take to make a positive impact; and 3) to develop personnel
and the tools needed to evaluate implementation strategies and options.
In preparing for non-attainment designations, Roundtable members thus far have devised a two-tier
strategy for educating decision-makers who, otherwise, would soon be making watershed decisions
with only limited information. The plan is to maximize the leverage of the existing cadre of air
quality experts by developing a "gold circle" of knowledgeable staff who can educate
decision-makers on air quality and its ramifications. The gold circle members will provide
basic information on air quality as well as credibility for our air quality experts.
User-friendly resources about air quality (e.g. presentations, fact sheets, surveys, and web
pages) will be utilized in supporting this effort to educate decision-makers and the media, and
thus the public, on the relationship between transportation, air quality, and land use. While
some of these resources exist, new material will be developed to appropriately reach these
groups in an effective manner.
Taking this proactive approach to meet the new ozone and particulate matter standards has
improved the relationships between agency partners. It is anticipated that the Air Quality
Roundtable will lead to earlier consideration of air quality in the transportation planning
process. Ultimately this approach will lead to better choices, lower emissions, cleaner air, and
an improvement in the quality of life for North Carolina’s communities.