EPA orders 22 states to cut summer nitrogen oxide emissions
Upwind states forced to improve air quality for downwind states
The EPA has ordered 22 states to slash their summertime nitrogen oxide emissions by 1.1 million tons, or 28 percent, to help reduce the chronic smog problem that blankets many cities.
The EPA said the action would help 138 million people, mostly in Eastern states, breath cleaner air, as well as bring those states closer to attaining the strict, federal standards for ground-level ozone and tiny particulates that were approved last year.
It was the agency’s first action to force air pollution reductions on upwind states to improve downwind air quality, and it is expected to help the Bay. About a quarter of all the nitrogen entering the Chesapeake, or about 75 million pounds, is thought to originate from air pollution.
Computer models show that the majority of the airborne nitrogen reaching the Bay originates from outside its 64,000-square-mile basin but within a surrounding 350,000-square-mile “airshed.” Some of the sharpest reductions required by the EPA will come from Midwestern states immediately upwind of the Bay watershed.
Still, the action does not maximize benefits to the Bay — it only requires NOx reductions during the summer months when smog is a problem. Had the EPA required reductions all year, it would have kept an additional 4 million to 5 million pounds of nitrogen out of the Chesapeake annually, according to Bay Program estimates.
Nitrogen oxide emissions are a major contributor to ground-level ozone pollution and to the formation of tiny particulates, both of which threaten human health, particularly children and the elderly.
EPA Administrator Carol Browner said the action was “the centerpiece of our efforts to cost-effectively implement EPA’s new public health standard for smog that was announced last year. This action will help prevent thousands of cases of smog-related illnesses, like bronchitis and exacerbated cases of childhood asthma each year.”
Once it enters the air, NOx can drift hundreds of miles downwind, contributing to distant pollution problems, and many Northeastern states have complained for years that they could not meet clean air standards because they were receiving so much pollution from the Midwest.
A recent report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Clean Air Network, two environmental advocacy groups, suggest that all three Bay states will need has much help as they can get to meet the new clean air standards.
After reviewing this year’s air quality monitoring data, the groups reported that the new standards — which don’t take effect until after the turn of the century — would have been exceeded on 47 days in Pennsylvania, 40 days in Maryland, 36 days in Virginia, and 14 days in the District of Columbia.
Emission reductions in the EPA’s new action were set for each state based on what would happen if all existing utilities and industries installed what the EPA considered to be available, cost-effective, control technologies. That is similar to requirements that have already been adopted by states from Northern Virginia through Maine to curb smog.
Under the EPA’s plan, states are allowed to make their assigned reductions any way they choose. The EPA estimated that the cost of meeting the requirement at $17 billion, and states have until 2003 to make their reductions.
Also, the EPA plans to develop a “cap-and-trade” system to help make the program more cost-effective. Such a program would allow industries that can make reductions at the lowest cost to sell pollution credits to others, as long as the overall goal is achieved.
The action drew sharply different reactions from the Bay states, with Pennsylvania and Maryland praising the EPA’s action, and Virginia criticizing it.
“The EPA’s plan is a good first step in solving this regional air pollution problem,” said Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary James Seif. “It is important, though, that all states accept their fair share under this plan and make the necessary reductions in a timely manner.”
Virginia officials expressed disappointment, saying they preferred an alternative plan backed by Virginia and a dozen other states that would have required fewer reductions.
“This is a great disappointment,” said Secretary of Natural Resources John Paul Woodley, Jr. “Virginia and the other states had proposed a more realistic, less costly alternative to EPA’s plan that would have achieved virtually the same air quality benefits. We still must study the EPA’s decision to fully understand its implications, but we are concerned about the unnecessary burdens this will place on electric utilities, other industries and individual citizens.”
Comments are now closed for this article. Comments are accepted for 60 after publication.