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ND known for clean air: Increased activity in Dickinson could lower quality

Press Photo by April Baumgarten With more vehicles driving down Highway 22 in Dickinson, as they were Friday, above, and in western North Dakota, officials are concerned the quality of air may decrease.

North Dakota is known for having some of the cleanest air for the lungs in the country, officials said, but some have concerns it could get messy.

"Increased truck traffic will lead to increased emission," said Joseph Roberson-Kitzman, North Dakota Clean Air Coalition coordinator in Bismarck. "That is going to factor into the future, but how much I can't say."

Bismarck was the 11th cleanest city in the country for year-round particle pollution, according to the American Lung Association 2011 State of the Air report. Fargo was ranked 23rd. Bismarck was also a clean city for ozone air pollution.

NDCC and Twin Cities Clean Cities Coalition Communication director Bob Moffitt in St. Paul, Minn., said the state has high quality air due to weather and being sparsely populated. But more people are moving into the state, including into western North Dakota due to an oil boom.

"I know there are a lot of concerns in that area about the flaring of natural gas and, frankly, the enormous amount truck traffic coming in and out," he said. "It has certainly changed a number of lives for a lot of the people in western North Dakota. It used to be a fairly sleepy ranching area, but now with the sudden growth of the oil field it has turned into anything but sleepy."

Moffitt added more traffic means longer waiting times, which forces people to run their vehicles longer and produce more emissions.

Dickinson Mayor Dennis Johnson said while he was as concerned with traffic pollution, he was more concerned with dust pollution from dirt and gravel roads. The city has been looking at ways to get industrial companies to pave their parking lots, including drafting an ordinance that would require any business expanding their business by more than 50 percent to pave off-road parking.

"My observation is that we are a very clean city," he said. "I hope that we can keep it that way."

Moffitt said he wanted to encourage residents to think about air pollution now before it has the chance to get worse. Residents can reduce pollution by using cleaner fuels such as E85 fuel, Roberson-Kitzman said, which is made of 85 percent ethanol alcohol and 15 percent gasoline.

"E85 has grown in North Dakota tremendously with over 70 plus stations," he said. "We grow and keep growing on the availability at the pumps so people can make the choice to switch to cleaner fuel."

Moffitt said NDCC will help bring people together to help keep North Dakota clean.

"North Dakota has been blessed with really clean air and beautiful scenery, and we don't want landscapes like Theodore Roosevelt National Park suffering as a result from the increased air pollution, not to mention all the residents in the area," he said.