A 37-state panel exploring potentially sharp reductions in nitrogen oxide emissions to reduce chronic smog problems in parts of the country has begun collecting information about how such actions may produce other benefits, such as reduced pollution to the Chesapeake Bay.

The Ozone Transport Assessment Group, which includes representatives from every state east of the Rocky Mountains, as well as industry and environmental groups, is exploring various strategies to control NOx emissions, which can contribute to ozone pollution problems in cities hundreds of miles downwind.

The panel has no authority to enforce its recommendations, but its work is likely to provide the basis for upcoming regulatory actions by the EPA.

In recent months, various OTAG committees have been exploring a range of control options, from requiring various levels of NOx reductions from power plants and industries to having cars burn a special “OTAG” fuel during the summer months. They have also been analyzing the cost of various control strategies, which can run into billions of dollars a year.

At its March 21 meeting, one of OTAG’s key subcommittees, the Implementation Strategies and Issues Workgroup, agreed that it should also begin compiling information about other benefits that would result from NOx reductions, such as reduced pollution to forests and East Coast estuaries.

“I favor quantifying benefits other than just ozone,” said workgroup co-chair Merrylin Zaw-Mon, director of the Air and Radiation Management Administration of the Maryland Department of the Environment. She noted that any states with “precious water bodies” would likely receive environmental benefits beyond reduced ozone levels through curbs on NOx emissions.

The panel agreed to form a special subgroup to compile information about additional benefits that could stem from OTAG recommendations. Such information could be used when officials begin analyzing the costs and benefits or various control strategies in coming months.

The action was taken in response to concerns raised by David Hawkins, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council and a member of OTAG, who has been raising the issue for months. In a recent letter to Mary Gade, director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the head of the OTAG process, Hawkins wrote that unless such information is compiled, the group would have a “grossly inadequate description” of benefits resulting from NOx reductions.

Hawkins said the OTAG process was certain to identify all the costs associated with NOx reductions, but unless it also identified all the environmental benefits, it may turn away from options with greater NOx reductions — and benefits — because they appear to not be worth the additional cost.

“Without this information, you may well reject a more effective NOx decrease option because you have looked at 100 percent of the costs of controlling the additional tons of NOx, but only at a fraction of the benefits,” he wrote.

Hawkins specifically cited the Chesapeake Bay and other East Coast estuaries as areas that would benefit from NOx reductions. “Numerous estuaries in the Eastern United States are suffering from eutrophication, and atmospheric deposition resulting from NOx emissions has been identified as a significant contributor to many of these estuaries,” he wrote.

Another workgroup member, Steve Harper of Amoco, cautioned that if the report contains too many benefits, it may “look like a Richard Simmons video with a lot of arm-waving.”

Some benefits, he said, “are not as well studied” as ozone. If all those benefits are included in a report, he said, it should state the relative level of uncertainty.

Estimates of Air Deposition’s Contribution to Annual Nutrient Loads in Selected Estuaries

Estuary (State(s)) ..............................% of Load from Atmospheric Deposition

Albemarle-Pamilico Sounds (NC) .............................44%

Chesapeake Bay (MD, VA) ....................................27%

Delaware Bay (DE, PA, NJ) ...................................15%

Delaware Bay Inland Bays (DE, PA NJ) .....................21%*

Flanders Bay ( NY) ..............................................7%*

Guadalupe Estuary (TX) .....................................2–8%*

Long Island Sound (NY, CT) .................................20%

Massachusetts Bay (MA) ...................................5–27%*

Narragansett Bay (RI) ..........................................12%

New York Bight (NY, NJ) ....................................38%

Sarasota Bay (FL) ..............................................26%*

Tampa Bay (FL)................................................ 28%*

Waquoit Bay (MA) .............................................29%

* Includes direct deposition to surface of waterbody only. Others also include deposition flowing out of the watershed.