Pennsylvania joins effort to limit pollution drifting into state
Pennsylvania will join eight states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic in petitioning the federal government to require nine states upwind to reduce their ozone emissions, Gov. Tom Corbett said on Tuesday.
“Our hope is that the EPA will level the playing field by ensuring other states are being good neighbors by abiding to the same standards we have in Pennsylvania,” Corbett said in a statement.
Corbett said the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states are subject to more stringent air quality standards than the upwind states.
Some leaders in the petitioning states are concerned that their air-quality efforts are being undermined by pollutants coming from West Virginia, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
“There's a big problem here,” said Jim Thompson, Allegheny County's deputy director of environmental health. “Depending on the time of year and the atmospheric conditions, anywhere between 50 to 70 percent could be coming from upwind sources.”
Thompson said the county health department fully supports Corbett's petition. Ozone issues are typically handled by the state, leaving the county health department unable to address concerns with neighbors in Ohio and West Virginia. Past pressure on upwind states to curb other forms of pollution has helped to lower levels in the county, Thompson said.
Pennsylvania and the other petitioning states want the nine upwind states to join them in a so-called ozone transport region, which under the federal Clean Air Act would force them to take actions to limit air pollution.
Petitioning governors said upwind states failed for decades to install technology needed to contain emissions of organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, which cause asthma and other respiratory diseases and contribute to as much as 98 percent of the ozone air pollution problems in their own states.
To justify its decision to join the petition, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection noted significant reductions in nitrogen oxides in New York and Maryland, both members of the ozone transport region. Between 2007 and 2011, New York decreased nitrogen oxides by 41 percent and Maryland by 47 percent, according to the DEP report. Ohio and West Virginia decreased emissions by 22 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Pennsylvania increased emissions by 14 percent, the report stated. Pennsylvania and other states will have trouble meeting future air quality requirements if the EPA does not force more restrictions on upwind states.
“The petitioners have an obligation to provide their citizens with healthy air quality, but they cannot do this on their own,” the DEP wrote in its report.
Chris Abbruzzese, a spokesman for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, said the state is doing everything required under the Clear Air Act and “will not be voluntarily joining the Ozone Transport Commission.”
Air quality officials in West Virginia did not comment.
The Environmental Protection Agency has 18 months to decide on the petition request.
Staff writer Aaron Aupperlee and Reuters contributed. Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or firstname.lastname@example.org.