- The Washington Times - Monday, September 6, 2004

WINCHESTER, Va. (AP ) — A federal agency is expected to monitor the Shenandoah Valley’s air and try to pinpoint the sources of the haze that clouds so much of the region’s magnificent vistas.

U.S. Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, announced an anticipated $500,000 in the next fiscal-year budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to work with local governments in monitoring the region’s air.

Many in the region accuse the coal-burning plants of West Virginia and the Midwest for fouling the valley’s air and making Shenandoah National Park one of the nation’s most polluted nature preserves. Other possible sources are the traffic on Interstate 81 and printing plants in the northern valley.

But no one can say for certain how much of the smog comes from any one source.

“We need to figure out where the air pollution is coming from so that we can better understand [it],” Mr. Wolf said at a recent press conference at Winchester’s City Hall.

The proposal, called Shenair, would set up air-quality monitors that could be tied to existing weather stations, NOAA studies and other programs.

NOAA is eager to use the valley to connect air-quality studies under way in New England and eastern Tennessee, Mr. Wolf said.

“This [proposal] is something that the NOAA really wanted to do anyway,” Mr. Wolf said.

The plan is included in an appropriations bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives last month and is expected to clear the Senate, Mr. Wolf said.

The northern valley’s ground-level ozone, the result of the sun-baking air pollutants, landed the Winchester-Frederick County area on a federal list of smoggy regions in spite of its smaller size. The area is growing fast but has only 89,000 residents.

Rather than receive federal sanctions for bad air, governments and businesses in the region decided to work together to enter the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) voluntary pollution-reduction program.

The monitoring program will give community leaders a better idea of what they need to do to clean up the air, said Patrick Barker, head of the Winchester-Frederick County Economic Development Commission.

“It would allow us to tailor our local measures to decrease ozone pollution,” Mr. Barker said.

The EPA expects new federal emission requirements to reduce pollution coming into the region from coal-burning plants.

In the fast-growing region, community leaders would be able to use the NOAA data to ensure proper development, said Steve Bauserman, a Winchester City Council member.

“It’s a great place to live, the Shenandoah Valley, and we don’t want to lose that economic edge,” Mr. Bauserman said.

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