(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) is dismayed, but not surprised by the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) decision Friday to abdicate its responsibility under the Clean Air Act by denying petitions requesting coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky reduce air pollution that travels across state lines.
EPA has rejected five petitions—one from Maryland and four from Delaware—that ask EPA to require stricter emissions requirements on out-of-state power plants. The emissions reductions requested by the petitions would better protect human health and the environment in Maryland and Delaware by reducing the amount of nitrogen oxides (NOx) that reach the Chesapeake Bay region.
The power plants' NOx emissions form ground-level ozone pollution, commonly known as smog, that can cause health issues such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, and throat irritation. In addition, NOx that falls onto land and water within the Chesapeake Bay watershed contributes to the nitrogen problem in the Chesapeake Bay. Excess nitrogen fuels harmful algal blooms that create dead zones in the water, devoid of the dissolved oxygen necessary for most aquatic life.
About one-third of the nitrogen that enters the Chesapeake Bay comes from airborne sources such as vehicle exhaust, animal agriculture, and power plant emissions.
"This is yet another example of EPA putting big business above human health and the environment," said Jon Mueller, Vice President of Litigation for CBF. "The agency is making it more difficult to achieve Bay clean-up goals by failing to limit interstate air pollution."
The coal-fired power plants' emissions spread within the 570,000-square-mile Chesapeake "airshed" that stretches from North Carolina to Canada and as far west as central Indiana. Many of the power plants could run existing pollution controls during the ozone season, but have not. Simply turning on the controls could prevent about 39,000 tons of NOx from reaching Maryland each summer, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE).
CBF and six national and regional environmental partners joined MDE last year in a lawsuit to compel EPA to respond to the Clean Air Act petitions. The lawsuit identified 19 out-of-state power plants whose NOx emissions contribute to ozone pollution in Maryland and deposit nitrogen to the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
"We applaud the efforts of Maryland and Delaware," said Lisa Feldt, Vice President of Environmental Protection and Restoration for CBF. "The Chesapeake Bay Foundation will continue to support efforts by states and other environmental organizations to limit the pollution from these power plants that enters the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed. We will not give up simply because EPA has declined to act."
The Clean Air Act requires EPA to limit pollution crossing state lines as part of the "good neighbor" provision. The petitions filed by Maryland and Delaware provide EPA with an opportunity to enforce this provision. Granting the petitions would have required the EPA to set more strict emission limits to ensure the power plants reduce pollution.
However, EPA chose not to do so. This is an interstate issue that requires EPA's intervention and can't be handled by the individual states. CBF is weighing its legal options to challenge EPA's flawed decision.
"In the Blueprint, EPA agreed to be responsible for meeting air pollution targets through implementation of regulations under the Clean Air Act," Mueller said. "That EPA is not enforcing the 'good neighbor' provisions of the Act has resulted in Maryland not meeting its air quality standards, which has a direct impact on meeting the terms of the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint."