LANDER — John Anderson considers himself a healthy man, but sometimes he becomes short of breath.
Last year, when Pinedale, his hometown, experienced high levels of ozone, he noticed more people coughing.
Neighbors now talk about leaving, saying they came to Wyoming for a mountain environment away from pollution issues that plague big cities. Anderson said they are people who add to the community and he doesn’t want to see them leave.
The ozone issue is one of the most important in the Pinedale area, and now Anderson has a chance to help form a solution to the problem.
Anderson is one of 25 people on the new Upper Green River Basin Task Force that will work to find solutions to curb ozone in the area. The group, which held its first meeting Tuesday, includes representatives of the energy industry, conservation groups, state government agencies and local governments.
Ozone has been a problem in the area for several winters, with last winter being particularly bad, reaching and surpassing levels seen in big cities. Natural gas drilling in the Pinedale Anticline and Jonah fields produce pollution. Temperature inversions — when cold air is trapped by warmer air from above — combined with sunshine reflection from snow can turn that pollution into ozone.
The idea for the group grew out of a recommendation from Gov. Matt Mead, who said after talking to citizens in the Pinedale area he wanted a way they could engage and participate in the issue that directly affects them, said John Corra, director of Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.
The group is facilitated by Steve Smutko and Elizabeth Spaulding of the Ruckelshaus Institute of the University of Wyoming.
Traditionally, DEQ visits Pinedale and updates people on efforts to reduce ozone levels and then takes questions, Corra said.
“That’s sort of an information delivery mechanism, whereas the working group will truly be a team effort to try to find solutions to the problem,” Corra said.
The ability to help find and implement solutions drew Anderson to give his time to the task force, he said.
Because of the issue’s size and scope of impact, Anderson said the large group makes sense. The group’s diverse makeup will help ensure everyone’s interests are heard, he said. Sweetwater County is affected differently than Sublette County, Anderson said.
He hopes the group is able to come up with strategies for when ozone levels exceed federal safety standards that can be implemented immediately.
“I think the underlying goal is just a healthy environment,” Anderson said of the new group.
Bruce Pendery, staff attorney and program director for the Wyoming Outdoor Council, said he hopes the group is able to make “strong recommendations” for reducing the level of ozone in the area.
The first issue is reducing ozone precursors, which are pollutants that create ozone, he said.
“It’s clear those levels have to be reduced,” Pendery said.
The group has a chance to find new and creative ways to achieve that, he said.
Pendery thinks the group has a chance to have an effect on the ozone issues in the Upper Green River valley.
“I think there is almost no doubt that we’ll have some level of influence with the Department of Environmental Quality,” he said.
What is unknown is how the group will find consensus.
“There are a lot of different constituencies,” said Craig Brown, with QEP Energy.
Brown, who participated in the first meeting by phone because of weather-related travel problems, said he hopes the group first educates itself to identify what truly are the issues and then is able to take that information to the community.
The first meeting was a chance for the group to learn background on DEQ’s efforts in the area and talk about how the group will run, Corra said. The next meeting, not yet scheduled but planned for mid-March, will be a chance to “roll up the shirt sleeves and start to work on the issues,” Corra said. The meetings will be open to the public.