East Coast to Kentucky (and Other States): ‘We’re Sick of Your Air Pollution’

The governors of eight Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states are tired of dealing with pollution from the Rust Belt and Appalachia. They’re calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to force tighter air pollution requirements on nine states, including Kentucky and Indiana.

The governors want those nine states added to the Ozone Transport Region (OTR), which is a stricter ozone standard that applies to several Northeastern states. In the letter sent to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, the Northeastern governors say states like Kentucky are contributing a significant amount to air pollution in their states, and should be held to the same strict standards.

Transported air pollution is a major cause of continued nonattainment of the ozone standard in the OTR and in many states upwind of the OTR. States within the OTR have adopted stringent controls at significant cost. Continued nonattainment burdens our economies and deters economic growth. States outside of the OTR are not required to install the same basic controls on a statewide basis but only in nonattainment areas, and they sometimes seek and obtain waivers from even that limited obligation. We believe expansion of the transport region and implementation of the required controls in upwind states are necessary for all of the OTR to achieve attainment in a timely manner.

The Supreme Court is also scheduled to hear arguments on the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution rule tomorrow. The rule would require twenty-eight states—including Kentucky and all of its neighbors—to cut back on ozone-forming emissions and in some cases, fine particle pollution.

The EPA created the rule in response to a 2008 court decision that vacated its predecessor—a rule put into place by George W. Bush’s administration that the court deemed wasn’t stringent enough. But the rule was overturned in 2012, and now it will be up to the Supreme Court to make a final decision. Kentucky is one of nine states that have filed a brief opposing the rule.

“The amicus brief argues that EPA exceeded its authority under the federal Clean Air Act when the agency promulgated a rule in 2011 announcing new air pollution cuts and imposing federal implementation plans on states,” Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway’s office said in a press release when the brief was filed last month. “The brief argues the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to give states an opportunity to decide how to meet new air pollution standards.”

The New York Times broke the story of the Northeastern governor’s petition today, and says that even if the Cross-State Air Pollution is upheld, the petition could hold Rust Belt and Appalachian states to even tighter pollution restrictions.

Like the petition from the Northeastern governors, the court case reflects the growing anger of East Coast officials against the Appalachian states that mine coal and the Rust Belt states that burn it to fuel their power plants and factories. Coal emissions are the chief cause of global warming and are linked to many health risks, including asthma and lung disease.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut, who is leading the effort by East Coast governors to crack down on out-of-state pollution, called it a “front-burner issue” for his administration.

“I care about this because it’s put Connecticut at an economic disadvantage,” Mr. Malloy said in an interview. “We’re paying a lot of money to remove these compounds from the air. That money is reflected in higher energy costs. We’re more than willing to pay that, but the states we’re petitioning should have to follow the same rules.”

Mr. Malloy said that more than half the pollution in Connecticut was from outside the state and that it was lowering the life expectancy of Connecticut residents with heart disease or asthma. “They’re getting away with murder,” Mr. Malloy said of the Rust Belt and Appalachia. “Only it’s in our state, not theirs.”

Needless to say, that’s a point that will probably be contested by the states in question. The New York Times quoted former EPA Assistant Administrator Jeffrey Holmstead, who now lobbies for coal companies. He blamed the Northeast’s pollution problems on “vehicles and businesses along the Eastern Seaboard.”

In Kentucky, Attorney General spokeswoman Allison Martin called it “disingenuous” for Northeastern states to blame the majority of their air pollution on the Rust Belt and Appalachia.

“While that is a convenient excuse, it is also difficult when you come to talking about Kentucky, because the reason why so much power is produced here is because that power is sold to power some of the largest cities in the world, which are in the Northeast,” she said.

Erica Peterson

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL.

@ericampeterson

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