Federal panel rejects appeal by Md. group over air-quality data

City's pollution plan did not require new projections, ruling says

September 13, 2001|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

A federal appeals panel has rejected a citizen group's claim that the Environmental Protection Agency approved an air-quality improvement plan for Baltimore without sufficient data about motor vehicle emissions in the city.

The case before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., focused on fundamental questions about how environmental regulators measure emission levels - an important issue to regional planners because federal road funding could be cut if air pollution remains too high.

In its challenge, the environmentalist group 1,000 Friends of Maryland claimed that pollution control plans submitted to the EPA by the state likely underestimated expected vehicle emissions in Baltimore because its projections relied on data from old computer modeling, a procedure required by the Clean Air Act.

But a three-judge appellate panel said in a ruling issued Tuesday that federal regulators had acted properly.

"After carefully considering the arguments raised by [1,000 Friends of Maryland], we cannot conclude that the EPA acted in a manner inconsistent with the language of the Clean Air Act," wrote Circuit Judge William B. Traxler Jr., who was joined by Circuit Judge J. Michael Lutting and District Judge Lacy H. Thornburg of North Carolina in the opinion.

State officials in April 1998 had submitted plans to the EPA showing that the Baltimore area was on track to reduce emissions and meet pollution-control standards by a November 2005 deadline.

That original proposal included the required computer projections - known as "photochemical grid modeling" - but the data were old, according to the lawsuit brought before the appeals court last year and argued in part by students from the University of Maryland's environmental law clinic.

The group contended that EPA officials should have required the state to complete additional computer modeling in 1999, at the same time that the federal agency sought other revisions to the original plan.

In this week's ruling, the appellate judges said the original computer modeling met the requirements under federal law.

"We conclude that nothing in the Clean Air Act requires that new photochemical grid modeling be performed," the judges said.

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