East Coast commission calls for California-type emission limits

Some Eastern states and the District of Columbia, under government pressure to clean up the air, say new cars sold in the region should be required to meet California’s strict tailpipe emission standards.

Proponents hailed the proposal, saying it would reduce smog significantly, but auto industry groups argued the proposal was neither cost-effective nor necessary.

The 9-4 vote Feb. 1 by the interstate Ozone Transport Commission urged the EPA to require that new cars sold in the Northeast meet California’s stringent emission standards. New York and Massachusetts have adopted the guidelines for the 1995 model year, and if the EPA adopts the proposal, the region-wide controls could be in place by the end of the decade.

Joining New York in voting for the stricter standards were Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and the District of Columbia. New Jersey, Delaware, New Hampshire, and Virginia opposed the measure.

The tougher California emissions standards require further reductions in nitrous oxide emissions than are required in the Clean Air Act. Auto emissions are a major source of nitrogen to the Chesapeake Bay, adding to its nutrient over-enrichment problem.

Cost estimates vary widely, with supporters saying it would add $100 or less to average new-car sticker prices and foes maintaining it would cost $1,000 or more. The plan also calls for the aggressive development and marketing of electric-powered cars.

The states in the commission’s region, stretching from Maine to Virginia, are under pressure by the EPA to come up with ways to clean the air or risk losing millions of dollars in federal highway funds.

“It’s an extremely important vote because it represents a message that the states of the Northeast agree that the automobile must be made more friendly to the environment,” said Thomas Jorling, the New York state commissioner of environmental conservation. “That message is one that the automobile industry has been resisting for a very long time,”

But the head of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Energy, Robert Shinn, said that the vote was premature and that recent studies show the California emission program may not be as effective as its proponents say.

In a statement, the American Automobile Manufacturers Association suggested a possible court challenge and said its own proposal to produce cars that are 99 percent pollution-free is a better and cheaper solution to cleaning up the atmosphere.

The Eastern States Petroleum Advisory Group, a gasoline-marketing industry organization that opposes the plan, said the air already is becoming cleaner as older cars are taken off the road and more service stations install fuel vapor-recovery systems.

The Ozone Transport Commission was created by 1990 amendments to the federal Clean Air Act to coordinate the drafting of control plans for ground-level ozone, the primary constituent of smog, in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic areas.

Foes say Disney park would bring a ‘wave of sprawl’

A Walt Disney Co. theme park planned for rural Virginia would bring so much traffic that air quality goals couldn’t be met and the region would lose millions of dollars in federal aid, environmentalists contended at a February news conference.

Disney should consider another site, closer to Washington and to mass transit, said the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund and the Conservation Law Foundation.

Disney had bought property or options on 3,000 acres of rural land near Haymarket, Va., 35 miles west of Washington.

“Taxpayers should not be asked to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize a new wave of sprawl which will degrade air quality and add to growing regional transportation gridlock,” said Michael Replogle, a transportation specialist with the EDF.

He said he got no encouragement when he met with Mark Pacala, general manager of the theme park, Disney’s America. Replogle acknowledged that Disney’s land costs would rise if it selected a site closer to the capital, but he said governmental costs for highways and sewers would drop.

Virginia Gov. George Allen, a supporter of Disney’s plans, has proposed $163 million in state aid. Disney plans to start construction next year and open in 1998.

Replogle asked for a year’s delay to consider environmental and financial impacts on Virginia, Washington and Maryland.

He said the region already exceeds federal air pollution levels. If Disney’s plans go through, generating an estimated 70,000 more auto trips a day between Washington and Haymarket, those goals might be unattainable, costing the area hundreds of millions of dollars in highway funds, he suggested.

Mary Anne Reynolds, a spokesman for Disney, said the project would meet clean air requirements. “We know we don’t have a project if we don’t comply,” she said. Before construction starts, she said, “a conformity analysis will be conducted. If it doesn’t conform, the project doesn’t happen.”

She said the environmentalists’ criticism was “premature and unsubstantiated.”

“They’re saying, `Move the site because you’re going to mess up our air.’ That has not been determined.”

Disney wants a new interchange built from the interstate highway that passes by the park site. In addition to the 125-acre theme park, Disney plans a 144-room hotel, a 27-hole golf course, 2,500 homes, and office.

EPA’s dioxin review ruled adequate by court

The EPA properly allowed Virginia and Maryland to set water standards permitting about 100 times more dioxin than the recommended level, a federal panel ruled in December.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s decision that the EPA acted in accordance with the federal Clean Water Act in allowing the states to set dioxin limits of 1.2 parts per quadrillion. The EPA recommends a 0.013 ppq dioxin standard.

“Each review conducted by EPA was supported by lengthy, highly scientific technical support documents [that] detail EPA’s rationale in approving the 1.2 ppq standards,” the panel wrote.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund and other groups filed suit in 1990 to challenge the dioxin limits and to force the EPA to review their approval, arguing that the EPA failed to adequately review the procedures of the state agencies that adopted the limits.

U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer had ruled that the EPA correctly applied legal standards in reviewing EPA’s approval of the states’ dioxin limits.

David Bailey, senior attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund, argued on appeal that the EPA “failed to follow its own guidelines” in allowing Virginia and Maryland to adopt the 1.2 ppq limit. He also said the EPA based its approval on outmoded scientific data.

EPA attorneys said the agency approves dioxin standards if the states use “scientifically defensible” methods. Agency attorney John Bryson argued that there was no specific data that would lead the agency to assume the 1.2 ppq limit was unreasonable.

Dioxin is an organic compound that has been found to be a carcinogen and a reproductive toxin in laboratory animals. It is a byproduct of paper mills and incinerators.

Bailey said he probably will not appeal this case but plans to litigate the issue in other cases dealing with individual permits.

Using fertilizer as de-icer may damage the Bay

Environmentalists warned Marylanders against using fertilizer as a substitute for salt to melt icy roads and sidewalks, saying it could damage the Bay.

The State Department of Agriculture said that using fertilizer is a bad idea because it doesn’t really melt ice and the runoff is damaging to the Bay.

“It might give a little grit to it, but to melt ice, it’s extremely ineffective and expensive. You’d be better off sprinkling ashes from the fireplace or grill,” said Harold Kanarek, a department spokesman.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a private environmental advocacy group, also warned against using fertilizer because the Bay already has an abundance of nitrogen and phosphorous, which are components of fertilizer.

Stores across the state said that as their supplies of salt and other ice-melting products began to dwindle, customers started buying just about any item that could keep them from slipping on the ice.

Environmental advocate touted for PA citizens

Pennsylvania should create a new office to represent public interest before the Department of Environmental Resources, a House Democrat said. Rep. Camille “Bud” George of Clearfield County said Feb. 1 that the Office of Citizens Advocate for the Environment is long overdue.

He is sponsoring a bill that would give people a chance to have their complaints answered by an advocate who would work with the Environmental Hearing Board.

Many people in small towns are left helpless in a fight against the DER and big businesses that want to move landfills and incinerators into their communities. Most don’t have enough money or enough time to take their cases to court, George said.

“This legislation would give individuals and communities a voice in seeing that their concerns are heard,” George said. He said the office’s powers and duties would be to represent citizens, municipalities, and small businesses before the DER or any other agency concerning environmental issues. The bill is of high priority and likely to pass the House within a year.