Cumberland Times-News

December 11, 2013

Maryland petitions EPA to enforce air pollution standards

Matthew Bieniek
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — Maryland wants the federal government to cut the flow of air pollution from upwind states into Maryland by enforcing standards already on the books.

Maryland is being joined by other states in a petition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to force upwind states to reduce air pollution generated within their borders that travels via prevailing winds and contributes to the formation of ozone to the north and east, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment. The petition was filed Monday.

Air pollution can cause asthma, respiratory disease and other public health problems.

Maryland officials say the upwind states have done little to reduce their emissions into the atmosphere. At the same time, Maryland and the other states petitioning the EPA say they’ve spent billions cleaning up their own emissions into the air.

“By making better choices we have significantly reduced air pollution generated within Maryland’s borders. Now, the air pollution that blows into Maryland from states upwind of us must be cut to protect the health of our citizens,” said Gov. Martin O’Malley. “The filing of this petition is a crucial step in addressing this problem. It is time for the upwind states to do the right thing. We look forward to working with them and to a future with cleaner, healthier air.”

Ozone concentrations in Western Maryland border areas, which are upwind from the rest of the state, have been measured at well-above federal limits, MDE officials said. “Ozone is a gas that occurs in two layers of the atmosphere. When ozone is up very high in the atmosphere it is considered good as it protects us from the sun’s ultraviolet rays; however, when ozone occurs near ground level it is harmful to human health and our environment,” according to the MDE. Ozone is produced through a chemical process when fossil fuels are burned.

The petition addresses this and other issues.

Maryland would remain in violation of federal standards because of pollution blowing in from other states, even if Maryland produced no emissions. Estimates are that between 70 and 98 percent of ozone air pollution is blown in from the upwind states, MDE officials say. “Preliminary results from 2012 air sampling and emissions records show continued improvement in Maryland’s air quality.

Maryland power plants have invested $2.6 billion in technology to comply with the Maryland Healthy Air Act. But Maryland is still not meeting standards for ground-level ozone. As much as 70 percent of the state’s ozone air pollution problem comes from upwind states — and ozone transported into the state has been measured at levels that already violate the EPA’s revised standard,” according to MDE.

The Clean Air Act allows the EPA to add any state to an air quality region if there is reason to believe it is the source of pollution causing violations of air quality standards elsewhere. The EPA administrator is required to approve or disapprove of such a petition within 18 months.

“The petition asks the EPA to require the nine upwind states to join them in what is known as the Ozone Transport Region. Under the federal Clean Air Act, states added to the OTR would have to take actions consistent with the air pollution efforts of the downwind states through use of readily available control technologies and reliance on cleaner fuels to generate power,” according to MDE.

The upwind states producing the pollution are Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, according to Maryland officials.

The states that joined Maryland in the request to the EPA are members of the OTR: Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

“States added as members of the OTR would be required to take additional steps to reduce air pollution that has been found to significantly affect downwind states. These steps can include ... having state regulators require sources to meet emissions limits developed by the application of controls that are reasonably available considering current technologies and cost,” according to the MDE. The states would also be required to take other actions to reduce pollution.

Matthew Bieniek can be contacted at mbieniek@times-news.com.