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Curbs on upwind air pollution sought

Maryland joined seven other Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states Monday in asking for federal help to curb air pollution from outside their borders, saying emissions from the Midwest and South are hurting their residents' health and their economies.

The eight states petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to require nine "upwind" states - Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Caroline, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia - to join an interstate commission that over the past two decades has yielded ozone pollution reductions in Maryland and other Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.

Besides Maryland, other states petitioning EPA for help are Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

"Most Americans try to be good neighbors and try to live by the golden rule," Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said at a Washington press conference announcing the move.  "Yet our states are receiving hundreds of thousands of tons of pollution from states upwind of us....There’s virtually nothing lelt we can do about it in our states."

Gov. Martin O'Malley, who is on a trade mission to Latin and South America, issued a statement saying that Maryland has already taken steps to reduce smog-forming pollution generated within its borders. With as much as 70 percent of the emissions affecting Maryland's air coming from out of state, he said, "It is time for the upwind states to do the right thing."

Anywhere from 65 to nearly 100 percent of the pollution impairing air quality in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic comes from elsewhere, officials said. The states in those regions have already significantly reduced their smog-forming emissions from power plants, vehicles and industry, but find it increasingly expensive and difficult to make further improvements because of dirty air drifting in from beyond their borders.

Ozone pollution, or smog, can irritate the respiratory system, causing coughing, sore throat and chest pains. It also can aggravate asthma and other chronic lung diseases, and has been linked to premature deaths.

If EPA grants the petition, the nine Midwest and southern states would be added to the so-callled "Ozone Transport Region," created under 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act to address summertime smog and other air quality problems in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Twelve states from Maine to Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia, have taken joint action through an interstate commission to curb emissions over the past two decades.

The petition comes a day before the Supreme Court is to review EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, under which the federal agency had tried to curb power plant emissions that contribute to unhealthy air in downwind states. A lower court vacated EPA's regulation, which had been challenged by power plants and state officials in the South and Midwest.

The petitioning states have all filed legal briefs in support of EPA in that case, but say the action they're now seeking would go beyond what the agency's regulation would require. Collin O'Mara, Delaware's secretary of the environment and energy, said emission reductions the states are seeking would lower health-impairing ozone pollution to a level below what the EPA rule calls for.

Ensuring healthy air in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic is only achievable if upwind states cooperate, officials conted, Delaware's O'Mara said further pollution reductions in his state could cost upwards of $10,000 per ton of emissions controlled, while putting curbs on upwind power plants could cost more like $500 per ton. New Hampshire's Gov. Margaret Hassan said taking every vehicle off her state's roads would only reduce ozone pollution there by about 3 percent.

Four of the states now participating in the multistate ozone-reduction effort did not join in the petition to EPA - Maine, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia.  Those states all have Republican governors - though Virginia voters just elected a Democrat.

Governors participating in the announcement said they could not answer for why their Republican counterparts would not join in petitioning EPA, though Connecticut Gov. Dannell E. Malloy suggested opposition to EPA runs deep among GOP politicians. Malloy said the petition was filed only after upwind states had refused repeated entreaties to join in beginning to reduce their emissions affecting air quality downwind.

"I understand lots of people would like to beat up on the EPA, but this is our only recourse," Malloy said, calling the relative lack of pollution controls in upwind states "fundamentally unfair."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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