Marylanders stand to breathe easier in future summers as a result of an agreement this week among 32 states to seek reductions in smog-forming pollution that drifts hundreds of miles across the Eastern United States, officials said yesterday.
Ending two years of negotiations, environmental officials from the states east of the Rocky Mountains agreed at a meeting Thursday in Washington to tackle the nagging smog problem by asking the Environmental Protection Agency to impose new control requirements on them.
By a vote of 32 to 5, the state officials recommended a sweeping array of cuts in ozone-forming emissions. The most important proposals seek reductions of up to 85 percent from electric power plants, and up to 70 percent from factories.
The bulk of the reductions, if implemented by EPA, are likely to be required in the Midwest and Southeast, where ground-level ozone has not been as much of a pollution problem as in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions.
"It's really going to help us," said Merrylin Zaw-Mon, air management director for the Maryland Department of the Environment. Air wafting into the Baltimore and Washington areas from the west and south of Maryland already has enough ozone to be considered unhealthy to breathe on some days, she said.
Ground-level ozone, the chief component in smog, causes breathing problems and aggravates asthma and respiratory illnesses. It is formed when hydrocarbons from gasoline and other fuel vapors mix in the air on hot sunny days with nitrogen oxides from motor vehicle exhaust, power plants and smokestacks. Fallout of nitrogen oxides also pollute the Chesapeake Bay.
Officials from the Northeast have long complained that their air is fouled by ozone-forming emissions largely from power plants and other sources in the Midwest and South, where pollution controls are not as stringent.
"It will level the playing field," said Zaw-Mon, whose agency has been grappling with the unpopularity of pollution control measures required in the Baltimore area, which has some of the worst ozone smog in the country.
The Ozone Transport Assessment Group, as the 37-state talks were called, agreed that smog-forming pollution can drift hundreds of miles across state lines. Though officials differed on just how far and how severe the problem is, they agreed on a range of new control measures. Those included ceilings on nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants and factories, clean-burning fuels and more sophisticated automobile emissions inspections.
EPA officials said they expect to propose pollution reductions based on the agreement by September. States would have until the year 2000 to adopt new smog-control measures.
The recommended reductions could reduce ozone levels in the Baltimore and Washington area air by about 15 parts per billion, according to Michael Koerber, technical director of the Lake Michigan Air Directors, who worked with the Ozone Transport group. EPA now considers ozone unhealthful when it reaches 120 parts per billion in any given hour, though the agency has proposed reducing that threshold to 80 parts per billion averaged over eight hours.
Maryland probably would not have to adopt new controls, according to Zaw-Mon, because of measures already enacted.
"These recommendations will allow EPA to impose [controls] on upwind states who are contributing to Maryland's air pollution," said William Becker, director of a national association of state air pollution control officials.
If EPA requires reductions near the maximum recommended, the area's smog problem and the bay could benefit, he said.
Not all affected parties agreed with the ozone plan. Dissenting were Virginia, West Virginia, Michigan, Alabama and Kentucky. A spokesman for the electric utility industry also complained yesterday that power plants have been unfairly targeted as major smog sources.
Pub Date: 6/21/97