HAMMOND | LaPorte County does not meet the federal Clean Air Act for ozone pollution, Indiana's top environmental official said Thursday.
"LaPorte is over the standard for ozone based on last year's data," said Indiana Department of Environmental Management Commissioner Tom Easterly.
Easterly's comments came during a presentation at the Partners for Clean Air annual meeting and luncheon at Hammond's Lost Marsh golf course.
Easterly pointed to record high temperatures in 2012 and subsequently high ozone levels contributing to high ozone levels as part of the reason for LaPorte County exceeding the federal standard at the Michigan City air monitor.
"It takes about a year or so to truly determine why it happened," Easterly said.
Easterly said at the Michigan City monitor, emissions tend to blow out over the lake, "cook for awhile, then blow back to the monitor."
LaPorte County has been exempt from the dispute between IDEM and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over ozone standard attainment.
One monitor in Zion, Ill., near the Illinois/Wisconsin border exceeded the ozone standard by 0.4 parts per billion during the testing period.
All of the monitors in Lake and Porter counties met the standard for the same period, but because Lake and Porter counties are evaluated as part of the Chicago metropolitan area and not individually as counties, they were deemed to be in violation of the act along with portions of Cook and other Illinois counties.
"It's so frustrating to me and so challenging to the counties here in Northwest Indiana," Easterly said.
IDEM filed a lawsuit against the U.S. EPA in 2012 in an effort to exempt Lake and Porter counties from the Chicago metropolitan monitoring zone, but the state has been shot down with every attempt in the courts.
"Our history with petitioning these things is it takes two to three years to get to trial," Easterly said.
Counties that are deemed out of compliance for the ozone standard have tight restrictions on new construction for facilities that emit regulated air pollutants.
"The crazy thing to me is you could build a facility right now in LaPorte County, which we know has a monitor showing it is not in compliance, but you can't in Lake and Porter counties, which are coming up clean but being penalized because of one monitor in Illinois," Easterly said.
Counties exceeding the ozone standard also participate in the state's Clean Air Car Check program, which periodically tests auto emissions.