Pennsylvania adopts tougher emission standards for new cars

The Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board in September adopted new air-pollution standards that will require new cars to be cleaner-burning and follow California’s requirements as that state fights to impose even more stringent rules in the future.

The action, which still requires one more round of regulatory review, would make Pennsylvania the 10th state to tie its standards to California’s.

The new smog-reduction rules, which would apply to 2008 vehicles sold in Pennsylvania, are expected to have little or no impact on vehicle prices or the way they drive.

But if California prevails in a pending legal battle with automakers over proposed greenhouse-gas reductions for 2009 models, that change automatically would be imposed in Pennsylvania and other states that follow California, including New York and New Jersey.

Those standards are expected to increase the prices of new vehicles, although proponents and opponents disagree about how much. Automakers say the proposed limits on greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, would also force them to produce smaller cars with less horsepower.

State officials say the savings from improved mileage that would accompany the greenhouse-gas restrictions would offset any increase in sticker prices.

Motor vehicles are responsible for as much as one-third of smog- producing gases, said Thomas Fidler, a deputy secretary in the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Cleaner emissions from vehicles will help many Pennsylvania counties meet federal air quality standards. Without the more stringent standards, power plants and industrial facilities would be forced to make expensive pollution cutbacks, Fidler said.

“It takes a lot of the pressure off,” he said.

The new Pennsylvania rules must still be approved by the state Independent Regulatory Review Commission, which has 30 days to accept or reject the board’s decision.

Because it began regulating vehicle pollution before the federal government, California is allowed to set its own rules. Other states have the option of choosing to follow California’s standards instead of the federal government’s less stringent requirements.

MD approves funds to upgrade 2 Baltimore sewage plants

Maryland took the first step in August toward improving two Baltimore-area sewage treatment plants that are major sources of nitrogen pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

The Maryland Board of Public Works approved grants totaling $18.6 million for the planning and design of improvements to the Patapsco and Back River plants, which process sewage for much of the Baltimore metropolitan region.

Robert Summers of the Maryland Department of the Environment told the board that by upgrading the two plants, Maryland will achieve 50 percent of its goal of annually cutting 7.5 million pounds of nitrogen entering the Bay from wastewater treatment plants.

The money for the treatment plant upgrades comes from the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund, Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s signature environmental initiative. The fund raises about $60 million a year from fees, amounting to $30 a year, paid by homeowners with sewer connections or septic systems. Businesses pay fees based on the amount of wastewater that is treated.

PA doubling purchases of green electricity

Pennsylvania, already the largest state purchaser of electricity from renewable sources, is doubling the amount it buys.

The state government will now get one-fifth of its electricity from power plants driven by wind and water. By doing so, Pennsylvania is creating reliable sources of affordable energy, cleaning the environment and providing jobs, Gov. Ed Rendell said.

“By increasing our investment in green power, we can broaden the market for clean energy providers and work to reduce energy costs for the commonwealth, rather than increasing our reliance on traditional energy sources and narrowing our options for competitive rates,” said James P. Creedon, the state General Services secretary.

Hydroelectric sources will generate 60 percent of the electricity and wind power will generate 40 percent. The purchase will avoid 951 tons of sulfur dioxide, 271 tons of nitrogen oxide and 123,410 tons of carbon dioxide, according to the state.

VA water board denies bid to extend reservoir permit

Virginia’s State Water Control Board dealt a blow to Newport News’ plans for controversial reservoir in King William County.

In September, it denied, on a 6–1 vote, a request from the city to extend until 2012 a state permit for the King William Reservoir, a $230 million project to supply drinking water for the next 50 years on the peninsula.

Opponents have argued that the massive project would destroy more than 400 acres of wetlands, threaten shad runs on the Mattaponi River, and flood Native American historical sites and fishing grounds. “This is enormous,” said Glen Besa, mid-Atlantic director of the Sierra Club, which has fought the project for more than a decade.

The seven-member board, which is advised by the state Department of Environmental Quality, is charged with setting standards for state waters and ruling on wetlands excavations and the conservation and economic development of water resources, among other purposes.

The decision means Newport News will have to seek a new permit next year and it should keep the city from buying land and laying pipelines.

The reservoir has been in the works since 1987, when state health officials urged Newport News to seek a future water supply. Since then, the city waterworks has spent $25 million trying to win government approval.

At the federal level, the Army Corps of Engineers initially rejected plans for creating the 12.2 billion gallon reservoir, but that decision was reversed last year. Environmental groups and the Mattaponi Indian tribe are appealing that reversal in federal court.

Well-known Bay photographer Marion Warren dies

Marion E. Warren, a photographer known as “the Ansel Adams of the Chesapeake,” who captured images of the Bay for more than 50 years, has died. He was 86.

Warren died Sept. 8 after a long battle with cancer at Anne Arundel Medical Center, less than a week before he was going to put on an exhibit in Annapolis.

“If it hadn’t been for Marion, a lot of what we know visually about oystering, about crabbing, about life on the Bay, would be lost,” said longtime state archivist Edward Papenfuse, a close friend who manages Warren’s collection of 100,000 photos.

His photography of the Bay and its culture resulted in 1994’s “Bringing Back the Bay,” a collection of black-and-white photographs that is part coffee-table retrospective and part testimonial. It was, his daughter and co-author Mame Warren said, “a total act of love,” spurred on by his fear that future generations would never see the Chesapeake Bay he had known.

Court orders EPA to draft ballast regulations

The EPA must draft new rules within two years to bring ballast water regulations under the Clean Water Act, a federal court ruled in September.

Judge Susan Illston of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued an injunction directing the EPA to ensure that shipping companies restrict their discharge of invasive species in ballast water.

The injunction follows on a ruling from Illston last year that found ballast water should not be exempt from EPA regulations.

The EPA currently has a standing exemption for discharges incidental to the normal operation of a ship. The agency argued that monitoring ballast water was the responsibility of the Coast Guard, effectively allowing ship operators to release ballast without Clean Water Act permits. The EPA must vacate that exemption by Sept. 30, 2008, Illston ruled.

Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin joined the Ocean Conservancy, Northwest Environmental Advocates and Baykeeper in the suit.

“Now we have a fighting chance to prevent further invasions of species that are clogging the intake pipes of drinking water facilities and power plants, harming the commercial fishing industry and destroying habitat,” said Nina Bell of Northwest Environmental Advocates in a statement.

Ballast water—which helps to stabilize vessels on transoceanic voyages—is considered by many to be the primary way that invasive species enter U.S. waters. It is considered to be a threat to the Bay, which has already been invaded by more than 150 exotic species.

States and the federal government have been drafting new ballast water laws.

Pending bills in the House and Senate would require ships to reduce the number of organisms in their ballast water.

Record number of native oysters reared in UMCES laboratory

University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science researchers this year cultured a record 252 million native oysters through early September, with a month remaining in the growing season. The oysters were grown for restoration at 20 sites across the Chesapeake Bay.

Restoration leaders attribute the increase in annual production to an improved scientific understanding of oyster reproduction, the expansion of restoration partnerships and restoration program investments made over the past decade.

The previous record for the facility was 194 million oysters cultured in 2005.