States in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic want states like North Carolina, Illinois and Tennessee to regulate polluting emissions that cross their borders.Bloomberg via Getty Images
Governors of eight Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday to require upwind states in the Midwest and South to curb ozone-forming pollution from their power plants, which they say travels downwind and poses health risks to their citizens.
They want the EPA to force nine states — Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia — to regulate emissions that cross their borders on prevailing winds and contribute to higher ozone levels to the north and east of the upwind states.
The governors' move comes ahead of a closely watched Supreme Court review of an earlier appeals-court rejection of the EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. The governors, led by Delaware's Jack Markell, said the upwind states have for decades failed to install the technology needed to contain emissions of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, which exacerbate symptoms of asthma and other respiratory diseases and contribute to as much as 98 percent of the ozone air-pollution problems in the downwind states.
The petition asks the EPA to require the upwind states to join them in an ozone transport region — which under the federal Clean Air Act would force actions to limit air pollution consistent with the efforts of the downwind states. Under that kind of pact, the Midwestern states would need to install what are known as best available control technologies to capture the emissions.
Besides Delaware the states petitioning for the controls are Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. Markell said downwind states pay the price for the failure of other states to install necessary controls.
"While Delaware's in-state sources are well controlled with state-of-the-art technology, this is simply not true of our upwind neighbors," he said. "Delaware pays more for health care resulting from respiratory illnesses, and our industries are forced to do more than those in the states causing the pollution, and that's simply unfair."
Delaware officials said that removing an additional ton of pollution in a downwind state, which has already removed most of these emissions, would cost $10,000 to $40,000 but that it would cost only $200 to $500 per ton in upwind states, "where even some basic control technologies have not been installed."
In a case being closely monitored by environmentalists and energy companies, the Supreme Court on Tuesday will consider the EPA rule that would have set limits on pollution from coal-fired power plants in 28 upwind states that directly affect air quality in other states.
An alliance of industry groups and 15 states, in addition to energy companies like Southern, Peabody Energy and American Electric Power challenged the rule, which as a result was never implemented. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit determined in August 2012 that the rule was invalid on multiple grounds.
A spokesman for Markell said the standards Delaware and other Northeastern states are proposing in the petition are more stringent than the EPA's cross-state rule.
"With a legal cloud hanging over the EPA's attempt to reduce interstate pollution, this petition could provide much-needed relief for breathers in the affected states," said Frank O'Donnell, president of environmental group Clean Air Watch.
Vickie Patton, general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, said it is also in the interest of the upwind states to install pollution controls.
"Cleaning up this harmful power-plant pollution will mean healthier, longer lives for children, families and communities across the Midwest and the millions of people afflicted in downwind states," she said.