The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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April 22, 2014

Local group launches clean air plan on Earth Day

It was an Earth Day first for Stephany Aquinaga, a pre-med student and member of the biology club at Missouri Southern State University.

“This is the first time I have ever planted a tree,” she said.

Aquinaga placed the dogwood in the ground, staked it and labeled it while her partner, Saif Farag, another pre-med student, used a tool called a tree digger to compact the soil around the tree.

The students were among 20 or so who planted 80 seedlings on Tuesday at the university’s biology pond and along Turkey Creek.

“Trees die every single year, and we need to repopulate those,” said Teresa Boman, an assistant professor of biology and environmental health at Missouri Southern who supervised the students. “Trees are important for clean air because they filter out carbon dioxide and replace it with oxygen.”

Protecting the summer air we breathe was the topic of an Earth Day news conference Tuesday at Joplin’s City Hall, where the 4-States Clean Air Alliance unveiled a voluntary clean air action plan to reduce ozone.

The plan was formulated in response to air monitoring that shows the Joplin area has, in recent years, exceeded federal standards for ground-level ozone.

Dan Pekarek, head of the Joplin Health Department and chairman of the alliance, said a key element of the plan is educating members of the public about ways they can reduce ground-level ozone this summer, when it is at its highest concentrations.

“We hope this plan and its voluntary measures will serve as a guide to the community,” he said. “This is what the average person can do to reduce ozone.”

One way to do that is to limit the use of gasoline-powered equipment during the summer and use manual tools when possible. A typical gasoline-powered lawn mower operating for one hour can produce the same amount of ozone as driving an average car almost 200 miles. Decreasing a lawn area by planting more trees, shrubs and flowers can reduce summertime ozone.

Another example: Conserving energy by turning off lights and appliances could reduce emissions from power plants that produce ozone.

Public service announcements, produced by Ramsey MediaWorks of Joplin, that will be aired on local television stations were shown during the news conference. Print ads and billboards will reinforce the message.

Ground-level ozone is one of six principal pollutants that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has identified as harmful to public health and the environment. Ground-level ozone can aggravate asthma and increase people’s susceptibility to respiratory illnesses.

Joplin’s ozone level is measured by a monitor at Alba. Earlier this month, the monitor showed that the ozone level was 52 parts per billion. If it reached 75 parts per billion, the EPA could identify Joplin as a non-attainment area for ozone and could direct that steps be taken to reduce ozone levels.

Pekarek said development of an action plan, like the one unveiled Tuesday, would be recommended by the federal agency.

“If the EPA finds we are in non-attainment, they would ask us to develop a clean air plan,” he said. “It just makes sense for us to do this.”

The alliance welcomed an important ally to its effort on Tuesday. The Inter-Tribal Council, of Ottawa County, Okla., approved the appointment of Craig Kremen, with the Quapaw Tribe, to the alliance’s board.

The tribe operates an air monitor north of Quapaw, Okla. Kremen is to provide regular updates on ozone levels to the alliance.

“This will give us a broader picture of what’s happening in our area,” Pekarek said. “We’ll have that much more reliable information.”

Measurements from the Quapaw air monitor could be compared with those from the Alba air monitor to show how the Joplin area is influencing the production of ozone, Pekarek said.

Ground-level ozone forms when volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides react in the atmosphere with sunlight and heat. Since ozone requires sunlight and heat to form, it becomes a concern from April through October. Most of the ozone in the Joplin area is generated by upwind sources and vehicular traffic.

Geographic reach

THE CLEAN AIR ACTION PLAN, which may be viewed at, focuses primarily on Jasper and Newton counties in Missouri, but counties upwind from the two-county area are to be included. Those counties would be McDonald County in Missouri, Ottawa County in Oklahoma, Cherokee County in Kansas and Benton County in Arkansas.

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  • Amendment 7 backers tout safety, new jobs; foes say special interests to benefit

    Billions of dollars are on the line when Missouri voters head to the polls on Tuesday to consider Amendment 7.
    The constitutional amendment, sent to the voters by the Legislature this year, would temporarily increase Missouri’s sales tax by three-quarters of 1 percent, raising an estimated $5.4 billion for the next decade to fund transportation projects. That includes more than $114.1 million in state funds for projects in Newton and Jasper counties, on top of additional revenue for localities that would be raised.
    After the Missouri Department of Transportation downsized in recent years, these projects are now mostly designed and built by private engineers, contractors and laborers — many of whom have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to a campaign effort to sway voters to support the measure.
    Last Monday — eight days ahead of the primary election day — supporters of the measure reported having raised more than $4.1 million for a campaign committee called Missourians For Safe Transportation and New Jobs, which was established last fall to support the measure.
    The International Union of Operating Engineers in St. Louis and Kansas City have contributed nearly $250,000 to the effort. That total was dwarfed by the $649,398 put in by the Industry Advancement Fund Heavy Constructors. Between its Missouri and Kansas companies, APAC — a construction contracting company that specializes in transportation projects — has contributed more than $150,000.
    “The whole idea that money is flowing into the campaign, of course it is,” said Sen. John Lamping, a St. Louis Republican who is opposed to the measure. “It would be a smart business decision to do that.”
    Lamping said the money pouring into the campaign supporting Amendment 7 is indicative of the financial gain the measure bodes for contractors and laborers.  
    Lamping proposed a measure in the Legislature that would redirect one-eighth of existing sales and use tax revenue directly to transportation projects, but he said that measure was rejected by legislative leaders. The coalition “didn’t hear about it,” the outgoing senator said, “because it was my idea instead of someone else’s idea.”
    Lamping, who filibustered a similar measure in 2013, said Republicans have an ideological consistency problem on the issue. He pointed to the Legislature passing a sales tax increase only a few weeks after overriding Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of an income tax cut that will largely help businesses organized as limited liability corporations, like many of the companies that could benefit from the measure. Lamping said that the tax increase will mostly affect taxpayers who did not get a significant tax cut.
    “Who wants a tax cut in Missouri?” he said. “Businesses. (Republican leaders) wanted to make them happy and then they passed a tax cut. This is grand-scale special interest cronyism.”
    The ad campaign being funded mostly by the business interests features paramedics and construction workers claiming the measure would “fix our roads and keep Missouri families safe.”
    “We have a chance to give our highways and bridges the repairs they need,” says one ad, which is running in Joplin and statewide in the lead up to Tuesday’s vote. “We have a chance to fix what’s broken by voting yes on Amendment 7.”
    The commercial uses a lot of words to talk about the benefits of the measure, but two words in particular are noticeably absent from the commercial: “Tax increase.”  
    “The ads don’t mention any of the ballot language,” said Jewell Patek, a spokesman for Missourians For Safe Transportation and New Jobs. “We figure Missourians will see the language when they go to the polls.”
    Patek, a former state representative who now lobbies the Legislature, said he disagreed with Lamping’s notion that Amendment 7 is all about special interest gain.
    “There’s quite a bit to gain for Missourians,” he said. “We have serious road needs. We’ll win or lose by the benefits in Amendment 7. I’m not sure I agree with Senator Lamping’s assessment.”
    If approved, Amendment 7 would prevent an increase in the state’s fuel tax, a funding boost opponents of the amendment like Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and some of the state’s social welfare groups have said would be more appropriate because it could pull in revenue from people who use the roads — like the state’s trucking industry.
    The Missouri Truckers Association’s political action committee has contributed more than $27,000 to the effort to pass the measure. Tom Crawford, president of the association, said his members support the amendment because they see the problems on the road and deal with them every day. And passage of the measure does not mean anyone will stop paying fuel tax.
    “We overpay our fair share on the fuel tax,” he said, pointing to statistics by the American Transportation Research Institute that show truckers have accounted for about 14 percent of road usage while paying for 39 percent of all taxes and fees owed by motorists. “We pay sales taxes just like everybody does on goods and products that people buy in the stores.”
    Crawford said truck companies do not pay state sales taxes on the purchase of trucks, but they do pay a federal tax. “So, we won’t be impacted on new equipment purchase, but other areas of our business will be impacted just like every other taxpayer in the state will,” he said.
    Thomas Shrout, who is helping lead the campaign against the tax hike, said that is not good enough and that Amendment 7 lets truck drivers off the hook. “Under Amendment 7, they wouldn’t have to pay any more,” he said.
    Shrout’s opposition campaign has raised just over $27,000 — less than 1 percent of the total money raised by its supporters. They are targeting their opposition at the state’s urban core by spending money on direct mail and targeted robocalls in the final week.
    “We think using the sales tax to fund road projects is poor policy for the state of Missouri,” he said. “It should be rejected.”
    Shrout said the Missouri Department of Transportation and its supporters should go back to the drawing board and consider some of the other options like campaigning for toll roads or a gas tax increase — both based on road usage.
    Representatives for APAC and the Heavy Constructors Association declined requests for comment.

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