(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and six regional and national groups concerned with human health and a clean environment today filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The organizations want federal action to stop 19 out-of-state power plants from harming Marylanders and the Chesapeake Bay.
"Last week the State of Maryland sued the EPA to force the agency to stop air pollution from hurting Marylanders. The lawsuit today supports the state’s decisive step. It also highlights how the same pollutants harming our children are degrading water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, its rivers and streams. Fish are having as much trouble breathing as people because of these 19 power plants,” said Jon Mueller, Vice President of Litigation at CBF.
The 19 plants are in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia and Kentucky. All are coal-fired plants. A total of 36 generating units at the plant are targeted by the lawsuit. Their air pollution emissions drift to Maryland and other downwind states. Maryland and other parts of the Chesapeake Bay region are vulnerable to emissions from a vast 570,000 square-mile Chesapeake "airshed" that stretches from North Carolina to Canada and as far west as the Ohio Valley.
One part of the emissions, nitrogen oxides (NOx), often turns to ozone in the hot summer months. Ozone, sometimes called smog, makes it difficult for many people to breathe. On 14 days this past summer ozone levels were so high a Code Orange Air Quality Alert was issued for the Baltimore area, meaning the air was unhealthy for seniors, children and others with sensitivities.
NOx, being a form of nitrogen, also harms the Chesapeake and the streams and rivers that feed it. Excess nitrogen fuels algal blooms that result in underwater dead zones where aquatic life can’t breathe.
EPA promised in the regional Bay clean-up plan called the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint that it would lower the amount of nitrogen emitted into the atmosphere yet is has refused to respond to Maryland’s petition. If it did respond nitrogen levels would come down.
In fact, if the 19 plants used their pollution controls effectively through the summer they would send about 39,000 fewer tons of NOx to Maryland each summer, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). That reduction would make the air and water significantly healthier in Maryland. Simply turning those technologies on fully, in fact, would bring all of Maryland and the Washington, D.C. area closer to compliance with clean air standards for ozone, according to MDE.
EPA is obligated by law to hold a public hearing and to timely respond to Maryland's petition. EPA has failed in both respects and has shown no signs of acting. The six environmental and public health groups have no choice but to ask a federal judge to hold EPA accountable.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. It requests EPA act on this interstate air pollution problem. The "good neighbor" provision of the Clean Air Act requires states to ensure that air pollution generated in their home states not harm downwind states.
Participating in the lawsuit are: CBF (lead counsel), Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility, Environmental Integrity Project, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and Adirondack Council.
The State of Maryland filed a similar lawsuit against EPA last week.
Find out more about Maryland’s upwind pollution problem.