Foul-air petition targets state

N.C. blames Md., 12 others for `downwind' pollution

`It's counterintuitive'

EPA asked to determine sources of emissions

March 19, 2004|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

North Carolina petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency yesterday to crack down on coal-fired power plants in Maryland and 12 other states whose emissions allegedly hinder North Carolina's efforts to clean its air.

Maryland officials, more accustomed to seeing their state as a victim of dirty air from power plants to the west, say they are already working to cut the level of dangerous air pollution emitted by the state's utilities.

But given geography and prevailing westerly winds, they expressed surprise at the complaint from a state that lies almost directly south of Maryland, separated by a sizable chunk of Virginia.

"The pollutants that our sources in Maryland emit are carried downwind in the same way that pollutants in the Midwest are carried downwind," said Kathy Kinsey, an assistant attorney general in the Maryland Department of the Environment. "That's the nature of the transport problem."

But she said she has difficulty thinking of North Carolina as being downwind. "It's counterintuitive to me, too," she declared.

In his petition to the EPA, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper argued that the out-of-state power plants are interfering with his state's efforts to meet federal clean air standards.

In particular, he named sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxides (which form soot and droplets called "fine particulate matter") and the compounds that contribute to ozone formation. They contribute to a variety of human health and environmental problems.

"Since we can't stop air pollution at the state line, we want to cut it off at the source," Cooper said.

Halting operations

The petition was filed under Section 126 of the federal Clean Air Act, which allows any state or local government to ask the EPA to rule that a major upwind polluter is unlawfully dirtying the air in a downwind state.

If the EPA agrees with the petition, it can force the utilities to halt operations within three months, or agree to a plan to reach compliance within three years.

Ironically, North Carolina, Maryland and 20 other states were named in 1997 as sources of interstate air pollution in a similar Section 126 petition filed by eight Northeastern states.

If North Carolina prevails in its own petition, its victory might work in Maryland's favor, officials here say.

"Given the fact that many of these states [targeted by North Carolina] are among the states that send pollutants to Maryland, it will be interesting to see what the EPA's reaction is," said Jeff Welsh, communications director for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Computer models

North Carolina used three meteorological computer models to identify which states were likely to be the most significant sources of out-of-state pollution, and what proportion of that pollution each contributes.

The petition names Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia as significant sources of the sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxides that form particulate pollution reaching North Carolina.

Maryland is named as one of five states that contribute significantly to North Carolina's ozone pollution. The others are South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia and Tennessee.

Maryland surprised

Maryland's contribution appears to be the smallest of the five. According to the ozone modeling outlined in the petition, even if all the polluting sources in Maryland were shut down, Mecklenburg County in North Carolina would see as little as a 1 percent reduction in ozone.

"I was a little bit surprised that we were named," Welsh said. But "they've picked a threshold and we were above it in this particular case."

Maryland has eight coal-fired generating stations. The largest are Constellation Power Source Generation's 1,296-megawatt Brandon Shores station in northern Anne Arundel County and Mirant Corp.'s 1,164- megawatt Morgantown station in southern Charles County.

The EPA has long targeted the Baltimore and Washington regions for some of the most serious and persistent air pollution in the nation. As a consequence, Maryland has been involved for years in a tangle of legal efforts to reduce emissions from "upwind" electrical generating stations that make it harder for the state to clean its air.

Litigation coalition

Kinsey said Maryland joined a coalition of seven or eight Northeastern states in litigation against American Electric Power, which owns coal-fired plants in the Midwest. That case is scheduled for trial in May 2005.

Maryland also joined 11 other states seeking to block regulations by the Bush administration that they believe would make it easier for power plant operators to make repairs without concurrent upgrades to reduce emissions.

The state was a partner several years ago in a Section 126 petition similar to North Carolina's, seeking a federal crackdown on Midwestern power plants.

"Our petition was never acted on," Kinsey said. Instead, the EPA applied the ruling from an earlier petition by a group of Northeastern states.

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