Pennsylvania and seven other Northeast states have called upon the EPA to order large power plants and industries in the Midwest and South to reduce pollution that drifts into their states.
Specifically, they want dramatic reductions in emissions of nitrogen oxides, which contribute to the formation of summertime smog. NOx is also a major source of nitrogen to the Bay, so if the EPA acts on the state's petitions, it could speed the benefits of air pollution reductions to the Bay.
The EPA had already indicated that it would act this fall to curb emissions from upwind states. But the agency typically allows states to devise their own strategies for meeting air pollution goals. States may, for example, choose to focus on auto emissions rather than those from industry or power plants.
Northeast states are concerned that process may take too long and bog down in contentious disputes between the EPA and some of the states, where officials and utilities are resisting efforts to order new, stringent pollution controls.
In the hope of cutting years off the time it may take to achieve emission reductions, the Northeast states in August invoked section 126(b) of the Clean Air Act, which allows any state or local government to ask the EPA for a finding that a source or group of sources, such as electric utilities, is emitting pollution that impairs downwind air quality.
After such a finding, the source must halt operation within three months unless the federal agency approves a plan that will bring it into compliance as quickly as possible. In any case, pollution must be reduced within three years. The EPA has 60 days to act on the petition.
In filing their petitions, Pennsylvania, New York and the six New England states are using the findings of the Ozone Transport Assessment Group, a panel representing 37 states East of the Rocky Mountains and the federal government that spent two years studying the problem of long-range pollution transport. It comes in a summer which saw cities from Washington D.C. through New England hit the highest number of violations for ground-level ozone in years.
Many East Coast state have long complained that they cannot achieve air quality standards because they receive so much pollution from beyond their borders, largely from Midwest states, whose emission requirements are typically more lax. OTAG made a series of recommendations that would help clean up East Coast cities, including calling for reductions of nitrogen oxide emissions of up to 85 percent from some Midwestern power plants.
"The work of the 37-state Ozone Transport Assessment Group demonstrated that pollution from other states helps cause violations of the health-based ozone standard in Pennsylvania," said Jim Seif, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. "Ozone is not just a local air pollution problem. We demand that the EPA implement the recommendations from OTAG in a timely fashion, so that other states also will do their fair share to reduce air pollution."
Pennsylvania and the other states filing petitions specifically want the EPA to reduce emissions from large, fossil-fuel-fired, combustion units and electric-generating facilities in 19 states. The states are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
"Not only will this mean cleaner air for all of us, but it will level the economic playing field," Seif said. "This is especially important with the arrival of electric competition."
To help clean up East Coast air, he noted, Pennsylvania had already agreed to reduce NOx emissions by 65 percent in its eastern half, and by 55 percent in western counties.
EPA officials said the petitions would complement actions they were already planning to take this fall.
But officials in some states were furious at the action and accused Northeast officials of over overstating the extent to which pollution from the Midwest affects the Northeast.
"We could shut down every power plant in Ohio and Northeastern states would still violate federal air quality standards," said Ohio Gov. George Voinovich. He maintained that computer modeling suggests that Ohio contributes less than 5 percent of the Northeast's smog problem.
Supporters of the action cited OTAG's models, which showed large amounts of pollution moving from the Midwest into the Northeast. And one of OTAG's final reports indicated that the models likely understated the amount of NOx transport.