The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rules that would slash carbon dioxide emissions from power plants 30 percent by 2030 could also help reduce nitrogen runoff into the Bay and protect human health in the region, according to a recent analysis.

As with the case for other ecosystems, climate change means huge impacts for the Bay — such as the loss of eelgrass, an important underwater grass species, because of warming temperatures and the inundation of coastal marshes because of sea level rise. Unfortunately, many of those impacts are largely inevitable because decades of inaction have allowed the continued accumulation of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, where they will remain for decades.

So, while the proposed action is a step in the right direction, the Bay’s sea level will continue to rise and water temperatures get warmer for decades to come.

But the proposal announced Monday would be expected to produce many co-benefits in terms of reduced air pollution in the region, according to an analysis released May 27 by scientists at Syracuse University and Harvard University.

Reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions from past air pollution regulations has already resulted in reduced nitrogen pollution to the Bay and its watershed according to a recent study

The new analysis suggests that efforts to curb CO2 would produce further reductions in emissions of nitrogen oxides, as well as reductions in emissions of fine particulate matter, sulfur dioxide and mercury.

Nitrogen oxides, a byproduct of fossil fuel combustion, not only sends nitrogen to the Bay, but also contributes to the creation of ground-level ozone, which affects human health, as does the emission of fine particulates. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides also contribute to acid rain, and mercury is one of the most widespread toxic pollutants in the Bay watershed.

“This new analysis shows that there is a real opportunity to help reverse decades of environmental damage from power plant emissions and to improve human health,” said Charles Driscoll, of Syracuse University, who helped lead the analysis.

The analysis found that Pennsylvania would likely receive the greatest reduction in nitrogen deposition of any state. West Virginia ranked third.

Four of the five states with the largest decreases in particulate pollution were in the Bay watershed: Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, Maryland and West Virginia (Delaware and Virginia ranked in the top 15).

Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania also ranked in the top 5 states that would achieve the greatest reductions in ground-level ozone pollution.
For more on the analyses, click here.