by North Cairn, staff writer
The governors of eight Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states have petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for stronger air pollution limits on nine Midwest states, but Maine Gov. Paul LePage is not among them.
The eight states – Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont – are asking the EPA to require nine upwind states, mostly in the Midwest and Appalachia, to cut down their ozone-related air pollution emissions from coal-fired power plants and other industrial sources. Monday’s petition seeks a reduction in emissions transported by prevailing winds that contribute to the formation of ozone in downwind states.
The request is aimed at Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, which have long been criticized for producing pollution that drifts east into New England and other northeastern states.
The request is of interest to the southern Maine town of Eliot, which is awaiting an EPA decision on cross-border pollution. Eliot residents have asked the EPA to determine whether Schiller Station, a Portsmouth, N.H., coal-fired power plant, is to blame for elevated levels of sulfur dioxide and health problems in the town. The EPA, which granted itself a six-month extension because of the temporary shutdown of the federal government earlier this fall, has until May to make a decision on the Eliot petition to compel Schiller, owned by the utility company Public Service of New Hampshire, to clean up its emissions.
“We don’t know why Maine didn’t join in,” said Effie Craven, campaign coordinator for the Maine Healthy Air Coalition, a group of statewide and local health care and public health organizations. “It’s important to stick together as a region … absolutely. New England has a tradition of sticking together on air pollution. Protecting people from air pollution shouldn’t be a partisan issue; it’s a health issue.”
Asked why Maine did not join the petition, Jessamine Logan, communications director for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, said in an email that “the largest source of impacts to Maine’s air is actually from mobile sources – not stationary sources.” She didn’t specify in the email what she meant by “mobile sources,” but proponents of relaxed emissions controls often contend that trucks and automobiles contribute as much if not more to pollution than industrial sources.
Logan said pursuing lower emission standards from stationary sources such as coal-burning plants “would have very little benefit to the quality of Maine’s air at this time, and we are cooperating and working with our regional groups on reducing emissions from mobile sources, the largest source of emissions in Maine.”
The state itself already meets federal clean air standards, and will continue to do so, Logan said. Meanwhile, discussions between Maine officials and such groups as the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, the Coalition of Northeastern Governors, and the Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers are ongoing and address specific methods on how reduce various sources of pollution, Logan said.
The governors’ petition comes a day before the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments to determine the fate of an EPA regulation called the “Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.” If authorized, it would compel 27 states that emit coal pollution across state lines into the eastern U.S. to limit soot and smog. Even if the rule is upheld, the governors are pushing their petition to win even stronger limits on pollution drifting from the Midwest.
The governors’ request, the Eliot petition and the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule are not formally linked, and the fate of one is not necessarily tied to the others in any legal sense, said Zach Fabish, staff attorney for the Sierra Club in Washington, D.C. But the issue of interstate, or cross-boundary, pollution has come up more frequently in recent months and could have a snowball effect, he said.
“I’m sure the EPA is thinking very hard about what they’re going to do,” he said. “It’s something that EPA is having to confront more and more.“
Three states in the Northeast that did not sign onto the petition – Maine, Pennsylvania and New Jersey – all have Republican governors, Fabish noted.
“Political parties are playing a role in this,” he said.
The three are also among the handful of states that have a history of dealing with the EPA on interstate pollution controversies. New Jersey and Pennsylvania faced off in a dispute over sulfur dioxide pollution at a power plant in Portland in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. The EPA ordered the plant to reduce its sulfur dioxide emissions by 81 percent and stop burning coal by June 1, 2014, to resolve the cross-border pollution.
The governors’ petition seeks what it contends are long overdue commitments from the upwind states to protect the health of people living downwind, across state borders. The EPA must approve or deny the petition within 18 months.
“Maine bears much of the brunt of dirty coal-fired plants,” said Glen Brand, director of the Maine chapter of the Sierra Club, which has assisted the citizens advocacy group in Eliot with its petition to the EPA. “This is a long-standing problem with the coal-fired power plants in the U.S. – at least 25 years.“
Brand said the state has a high incidence of asthma and other respiratory diseases.
Maine ranks seventh in the U.S. in asthma, and is also among the top 20 states in the U.S. for chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, according to the National Institutes of Health.