Carolina's cloudy vision

April 02, 2004|By Kendl P. Philbrick

WHAT COULD they have been thinking in Raleigh, N.C.?

The North Carolina attorney general recently filed a petition with the federal Environmental Protection Agency asking for a crackdown on out-of-state power plants that send pollutants into North Carolina. Among the culprits: Maryland. Our friends in Raleigh claim Maryland is responsible for the ozone that befouls the air in the Tar Heel State.

In 2002, when North Carolina adopted its admirable Clean Smokestacks Act, which put state-of-the-art controls on in-state power plants, the legislation included a requirement that the state file a Section 126 petition with the EPA. Section 126, which is part of the Clean Air Act, allows states to ask the EPA to require polluters in other states to reduce emissions.

So folks in Raleigh cast an eye over the entire eastern half of the United States (or so it would seem) and named a dozen states where they say coal-fired power plants are producing airborne pollutants that eventually reach Mecklenburg County. Maryland made the list.

Have we mentioned how much ozone Maryland contributes? One percent, according to an EPA model.

It's tempting to make an issue of power plants and other emissions sources in North Carolina sending more pollutants into Maryland than the other way around - far more than 1 percent of total ozone. Or to note that Maryland has done considerably more than North Carolina to clean up emissions, even more than it envisions in its petition. In fact, it's tempting to question the science of their claim; prevailing winds blow from the south and west.

But that would be the wrong approach.

People in North Carolina, as in Maryland, are frustrated by their inability to stop power plants in other states from polluting their air. Air currents carry ozone hundreds of miles from the states where it is generated. For example, power plants in Ohio and the Tennessee Valley produce much of the ozone in Maryland's air.

Instead, our answer to North Carolina is: Welcome to the club. Maryland has been pushing the EPA to impose tougher standards on upwind power plants for years. We are part of a coalition of Northeast states and the District of Columbia that want strict controls and a fast timetable for their implementation.

In fact, the states in this group, the Ozone Transport Commission, are considering the issues surrounding filing Section 126 petitions with the EPA. If enough states insist on cleaner air, it's going to be hard for the federal government to say no.

What's the potential impact of North Carolina's petition on Maryland? Probably not much. Even if the EPA acts on the petition, Maryland has already done so much over the years to reduce pollution that the impact would be minimal.

But we're not going to wait to see what the EPA does. We'll find ways to make the air cleaner and healthier, encouraging good corporate citizens who have reduced emissions and insisting that others raise their standards.

Kendl P. Philbrick is the secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment.

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