Md. asks EPA to curb pol­lu­tion from coal plants in Mid­west

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Scott Dance

Mary­land en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tors are ask­ing their fed­eral coun­ter­parts to crack down on 19 coal plants in five other states whose emis­sions — car­ried hun­dreds of miles by the wind — make the air here un­healthy to breathe on hot sum­mer days.

The plants have spent bil­lions of dol­lars on tech­nol­ogy to re­duce pol­lu­tion, but ac­cord­ing to Mary­land of­fi­cials, they don’t use it ev­ery day dur­ing the sum­mer, when heat and sun­shine cause the pol­lu­tant ozone to form and make air qual­ity its worst.

Ben Grum­bles, the state’s en­vi­ron­ment sec­re­tary, is ask­ing the U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency to step in be­fore this sum­mer.

“We’re say­ing to EPA we know for a fact those power plants have the ex­ist­ing con­trol tech­nolo­gies, they have in­stalled them, but for what­ever rea­son, they’re not run­ning them ev­ery day dur­ing the ozone sea­son,” Grum­bles said. “That is one very easy way for down­wind states like Mary­land to ben­e­fit.”

North­east­ern and Mid-At­lantic states have long pres­sured fed­eral of­fi­cials and Mid­west states to re­duce the pol­lu­tion that blows east­ward.

Mary­land’s pe­ti­tion filed Wed­nes­day presents a

“We’re not ask­ing for any­thing that we’re not al­ready do­ing in Mary­land.” Ben Grum­bles, MDE

rel­a­tively new strat­egy in re­quir­ing the states to com­ply with the fed­eral Clean Air Act, and it comes a month af­ter New York and other states sued the EPA over in­ter­state air pol­lu­tion.

Mary­land en­vi­ron­men­tal of­fi­cials es­ti­mate that 70 per­cent of this state’s ozone pol­lu­tion comes from up­wind states. Such air pol­lu­tion con­trib­utes to health prob­lems that in­clude res­pi­ra­tory ill­ness and heart dis­ease.

“Any ef­fort to clamp down on that nox­ious pol­lu­tion can only be of ben­e­fit to breathers in Mary­land,” said Frank O’Don­nell, pres­i­dent of Clean Air Watch, an ad­vo­cacy group in Wash­ing­ton. “There are mul­ti­ple tools within the Clean Air Act to deal with in­ter­state pol­lu­tion.”

Mary­land’s pe­ti­tion concerns 36 coal­fired units at 19 plants in In­di­ana, Ken­tucky, Ohio, Penn­syl­va­nia and West Vir­ginia. Grum­bles said the state has been track­ing data and air pol­lu­tion models for the past three years to learn that ef­forts to cut pol­lu­tion have fallen short of their po­ten­tial.

Coal plants across the coun­try have been re­quired to in­vest in tech­nol­ogy to re­move key pol­lu­tants from their ex­haust — sul­fur diox­ide and ni­tro­gen ox­ides, which re­act with other com­pounds in the at­mos­phere to form ozone.

In Mary­land, reg­u­la­tions im­posed last year re­quire that power plants use the tech­nol­ogy daily dur­ing the sum­mer, when the weather mul­ti­plies the ozone pol­lu­tion in the air and prompts air-qual­ity health alerts.

In other states, how­ever, plants don’t have to use the pol­lu­tion con­trols ev­ery day as long as their av­er­age out­put of the nox­ious gases re­mains un­der fed­eral stan­dards.

“We’re not ask­ing for any­thing that we’re not al­ready do­ing in Mary­land,” Grum­bles said.

One air-qual­ity ad­vo­cate noted that the pe­ti­tion does not men­tion a Penn­syl­va­nia coal plant that two states have asked EPA to crack down on. Ear­lier this year, Con­necti­cut and Delaware of­fi­cials both asked the agency to re­quire pol­lu­tion con­trols at the Brun­ner Is­land Power Plant south of Harrisburg, Pa.

“We cer­tainly think that plant im­pacts Mary­land, as well,” said Mark Kre­sowik, re­gional deputy di­rec­tor for the Sierra Club’s Be­yond Coal cam­paign. Still, he said, the or­ga­ni­za­tion is “en­cour­aged” by Mary­land’s pe­ti­tion.

The state has asked the EPA to act by May, be­fore next sum­mer’s “ozone sea­son” be­gins.

Grum­bles said he hopes the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion acts on the re­quest soon, but if it does not by Jan. 20, the state plans to con­tinue to press the is­sue with the new ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump.

The pe­ti­tion fits “hand in glove” with a pend­ing call for the EPA to add nine states to a re­gional com­mis­sion fo­cused on re­duc­ing in­ter­state pol­lu­tion, Grum­bles said. Mary­land was among eight states that asked the agency in 2013 to ex­pand the group to in­clude Illi­nois, In­di­ana, Ken­tucky, Michi­gan, Ohio, Ten­nessee, Vir­ginia, West Vir­ginia and North Carolina.

New York and five other states sued the EPA in fed­eral court in New York City last month, de­mand­ing that it act on that re­quest.

At that time, Grum­bles said the state would not join the law­suit and would in­stead fo­cus on “work­ing out­side of the court­room ... to re­duce in­ter­state smog.”

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