When some Maryland businesses look at new federal air pollution standards, they see a potentially expensive combination: Tougher smog and soot limits and certainty that a huge swath of the state -- which has the East Coast's worst air pollution -- will fall short.
That means local and state governments will have to find ways to cut air pollution.
Power companies are likely to be at the top of the list of targets, experts say.
Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. says the new standards might cost it hundreds of millions of dollars in scrubbing equipment, and force it to scrap combustion turbines that provide the juice to serve customers in the heat of the summer. The coal mining industry warns of falling sales and disappearing jobs.
Among others worried about the standards are Baltimore-based Crown Central Petroleum Corp., Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point plant and the state's trucking industry.
"I think the rules are going to be harming economic development in all urban areas from D.C. to Boston," said BGE's lead engineer, John Quinn.
Some experts say industry is crying wolf, part of a reflex reaction to environmental regulation that history proves exaggerated. "Cries of gloom and doom for the economy are way overblown," said Bob Percival, an environmental law professor at the University of Maryland.
To fight smog, the Environmental Protection Agency would tighten regulations on ground-level ozone, the chief contributor to smog. The agency would lower the amount of ozone permitted in the air by one-third, determining the measurement based on an eight-hour average rather than the current one-hour average.
Ozone is produced by emissions from autos, coal- and oil-fired power plants and a variety of other sources, including barbecue grills, power boats and gasoline-powered lawn mowers.
Had the proposed EPA standard for ozone been in effect last year, Baltimore's air would have been considered unhealthful on 38 days last summer, compared with four days under existing rules.
To combat soot, EPA is setting limits on extremely small particles -- one-28th of the width of a human hair and four times smaller than the ones it has been regulating.
These particles are generated mainly by burning fuels. Major sources include power plants, cars, wood stoves and diesel trucks and buses.
Local and state governments have about 15 years under a multiple-step timetable to comply with the rules.
The EPA, which contends that the rules will save thousands of lives -- it estimates that 15,000 people die each year as a result of exposure to air pollutants -- and cut respiratory illnesses, estimates that the effort will cost businesses between $6.6 billion and $8.5 billion a year beginning in 2007.
Industry groups say the cost could be 10 times that.
Some lawmakers are fighting the standards on Capitol Hill and business is challenging them in the courts.
Under the new standards, the number of Maryland jurisdictions that fail to meet federal ozone limits would jump from six to 10. Added to a list that includes Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Cecil, Harford and Prince George's counties would be Carroll, Charles, Kent and Montgomery counties, according to EPA.
No Maryland jurisdiction violates current soot standards. But monitoring based on the current standards identifies Baltimore and Baltimore, Cecil and Anne Arundel counties as likely candidates.
It's too early to say precisely how the new standards will affect Maryland businesses. Merrilyn Zaw-Mon, the Maryland Department of the Environment's director of air and radiation management, said the state lacks monitoring data on tiny
Complicating the task of measuring ozone is pollution that drifts from south and west -- an issue that EPA plans to start addressing this fall.
"I think it would be premature to talk about which industries will be targeted, because we're going to have to look at the complete picture," she said.
But Zaw-Mon said utilities are a likely target because old, inefficient plants are sources of both smog and soot. "It's a lot of bang for the buck," she said.
BGE and Potomac Electric Power Co. hold the top two spots when it comes to emissions by Maryland companies in three categories: nitrogen oxides, which contribute to ozone; sulfur dioxide, which helps form soot; and tiny particles, according to an analysis of state and federal data by the Washington-based Environmental Working Group.
BGE officials said their company might have to spend as much as $300 million for scrubbing equipment to comply with the new soot standard.
"That would be to reduce the maximum we could reduce," said Quinn, BGE's lead engineer.
BGE fears that politicians will be reluctant to anger motorists by coming down hard on cars, leaving utilities to bear the brunt of the new ozone limits.
But, said Quinn, even if BGE were to shut down all of its facilities, the Baltimore area would still fall short of meeting the new standards.