A second major utility company has filed a lawsuit against the Maryland Department of Environment challenging the state's new nitrogen oxide emission limits and triggering criticism from a local environmentalist.
Potomac Electric Power Co. claims that the department exceeded its authority in adopting the regulations last month. Under those requirements, the utilities must comply by May 1, 1999, a deadline that Pepco and Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. say is impossible to meet.
The state adopted the standards last month as part of a 1994 agreement with other Northeastern states that aims to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions -- which contribute to ozone air pollution -- by as much as 65 percent.
Glen Besa of the Sierra Club in Annapolis accused both utilities of stalling.
"I think their objective is delay," Besa said. "The utility industry has a 30-year history of dragging its feet on clean-air provisions. For them, delay is more money in their pockets."
The suggestion that the state had exceeded its authority is "absurd," Besa said.
"The federal Clean Air Act expressly provides for the establishment of a [Northeastern states] commission to establish tougher regulations needed in those states to address their very severe ozone problems."
Pepco spokeswoman Nancy Moses said the state's standard is not as stringent as the limits proposed by the federal government.
"We are not opposed to complying with regulations, but we don't want to install $123 million in equipment only to have to rip it out again and install something else," Moses said. "We just don't think our customers' wallets are big enough to accommodate this inconsistency."
Of the accusation that utilities are "dragging their feet," Moses said, "We are really caught between government agencies. For the Sierra Club to say, 'They knew about it all along,' it's more complicated than that. These aren't $10 items."
Complying with the regulations might substantially affect the company's ability to provide a reliable supply of electricity to its customers in Maryland, according to the suit.
MDE officials say the regulations, adopted May 22, are consistent with those approved or about to be implemented in eight other states.
Spokesman Quentin Banks declined to comment on the lawsuits, saying the department will respond in court. Pepco filed its suit Friday in Charles County Circuit Court, and BGE filed its in Baltimore City Circuit Court, also Friday.
BGE says it needs two years to retrofit its facilities with the equipment necessary to meet the requirements. In its suit, BGE said the state had underestimated by about half the cost of those changes.
The project is expected to cost $50 million to $100 million, the company said.
Pub Date: 6/25/98