Taking credit for clean air Shutdown bonus: Industries that closed polluting plants should not benefit from state proposal.

June 27, 1998

CONSIDER HOW it might work with traffic laws.

"Yes, officer, I was speeding, but in my past four trips down this highway, I traveled well under the limit, giving me future credits and protection."

That's the essence of the state's proposal to credit industries for "expected" air pollution that they did not emit in past years because they shut down factories.

It's dubious environmental policy, especially as it would set back hard-wrought plans of the Baltimore and Washington region to meet federal cleanup deadlines in the next decade.

Restrictions aimed at improving air quality affect almost everyone in the pocketbook, from electric power customers to dry cleaners to motorists. The suggested license to pollute because of economic inactivity runs counter to the concept of sharing air cleanup burdens.

The state Department of the Environment plan would grant "free" air pollution credits to businesses that closed polluting facilities as far back as 1991. The credits could then be used by a company to violate emission limits, or they could be sold to another firm needing to exceed emission limits.

The federal strategy of trading air pollution credits has worked reasonably well in achieving overall air quality improvement because credit-buyers still must eventually reduce their own harmful emissions. The state proposal upsets this balance by creating extra credits from business decisions made years ago, not always for environmental reasons.

Bethlehem Steel's plant at Sparrows Point is named as a primary beneficiary, gaining credits from the 1991 shutdown of its problematic, polluting coke oven. Yet the state says Bethlehem Steel does not need these credits to build a $300 million cold rolling mill at the Point.

If certain industries require help, let the state tinker with air quality plans or buy emission credits on the market. This unmerited benefit for past actions would be a decided disadvantage for the breathing public.

Pub Date: 6/27/98

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