Md., 10 other states OK emissions curbs Plan for industries is first aimed at cutting nitrogen oxide part of smog.

March 11, 1992|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- In a new move to combat smog, officials from Maryland and 10 other Northeastern states yesterday agreed to begin curbing nitrogen oxide emissions from coal-burning power plants.

The Ozone Transport Commission, made up of environmental officials from Maine through Virginia, adopted a two-stage plan directed at industries, chiefly utilities.

Power companies criticized the plan as premature and costly.

In Central Maryland, compliance could increase the average household electric bill from 60 cents to $2.40 a month, according to a spokesman for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

The panel was set up by Congress to develop regional plans for dealing with the smog that plagues the Northeast and mid-Atlantic. Smog, or ground-level ozone, causes breathing problems for many people.

In addition, nitrogen oxides contribute to water-quality problems in Chesapeake Bay.

The panel agreed to issue state regulations by November to put the plan into effect.

The rules would require utilities to install new, less-polluting burners and make other changes at coal-fired plants by May 1995.

Nitrogen oxides, from power plants and car and truck exhaust, combine in the hot summer sun with hydrocarbons from vehicles and fuels to form smog.

The states' move to curb nitrogen oxides is a first, because almost all federal and state efforts to deal with smog to date have focused on reducing hydrocarbon emissions, the other major ingredient in ozone's formation.

That emphasis was criticized recently in a study by the National Academy of Sciences, which said air pollution regulators needed to focus more attention on nitrogen oxides.

Under the 1990 federal Clean Air Act, states with smog problems are required to propose "reasonably available control technology" by November for major industrial sources of nitrogen oxides.

The commission also agreed to consider in two years a second round of much more costly smog controls on utilities, but only after more studies have been conducted to see if they are needed throughout the region.

"There's a lot of people who want to go further," said Robert Perciasepe, Maryland's environment secretary, who is chairman of the panel. But he said the states don't know yet how far they must go in curbing nitrogen oxides to solve the region's smog problem.

BG&E officials questioned the plan, saying that one plant modification required may cause other pollution problems at some of the utility's plants.

Depending on how Maryland applies the regulations, it could cost BG&E $40 million to $400 million to reduce nitrogen oxides on 10 of its coal-burning units, said John Quinn of the utility's environmental programs section.

Switching to cleaner burners would reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 24 percent, Mr. Quinn said.

The commission's action drew fire from a spokeswoman for Potomac Electric Power Co., who warned that the plant modifications to be required will cost utility customers "hundreds of millions of dollars" and could jeopardize electricity supply.

"We think it's premature and overly aggressive," said Nancy Moses, Pepco's spokeswoman. She noted that the Clean Air Act already requires utilities to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions because they also contribute to acid rain.

Pepco plans to spend $200 million by 1995 to replace burners at its Morgantown and Chalk Point plants in Southern Maryland, she said.

The regional pact will require Pepco to spend another $200 million by 1995, she said.

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