(Update 6:30 p.m. Thursday: I've edited and tinkered in several spots below, after a conversation with Steinman)
On my calendar for May 4, just above where I had scrawled "Primary," was the note, "conformity deadline." "Conformity" is bureaucrat-ese for whether the Charlotte region's long-range transportation plans meet federal requirements for clamping down on ozone.
If the plans don't pass muster, we lose a huge chunk of federal transportation money.
The plans don't have to actually reduce on ozone, mind you. They just have to follow the right formulas and use computer modeling to show that ozone will go down.
I called Norm Steinman of the Charlotte Department of Transportation. (Dare I call him the conformity czar? He protests the term, which I just made up, but he's in charge of the city of Charlotte's measuring of the regional conformity models.)
Charlotte has passed, Steinman told me. The city was notified just a few days before. The letter, he said, was in the mail.
Almost 60 percent of the Charlotte region's ozone comes from vehicle exhaust, including off-road vehicles. If you're skeptical that it really will go down so much, given the projected population growth, join the crowd. It's true, cars are getting cleaner and emissions are sinking. But in a growing city, the increasing number of vehicles on the road and the increasing number of miles they're driving will partly counterbalance cleaner cars, especially as EPA standards keep getting tougher, as more and more evidence shows how bad for use zone and air pollution are.
But with the city's high unemployment rate, fewer people are driving to jobs, Steinman said. It isn't good for our economy but at least it helped with that conformity requirement. An even more important factor was that last summer was unusually cool and damp, with far fewer high-ozone days than usual.
Next up: 2016. That's when Charlotte has to show that it can meet some even stricter ozone rules.