WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency imposed new smog limits Thursday that will likely mean a crackdown on nitrogen oxide emissions from Maryland’s smokestack industries.
The focus on smokestacks is just one pollution-fighting option the EPA is offering the 22 states and the District of Columbia, which are subject to the new regulations. But it was embraced by Maryland officials earlier this year, drawing praise from automotive groups and legal challenges from two utilities.
“This is great news for motorists,” said Lon Anderson, a spokesman for the American Automobile Association’s Potomac chapter.
“Motorists are spending a great deal of money already to clean the air” through cleaner gasolines, emissions equipment and tests for their cars, said Anderson.
The new EPA rules call for a reduction of 1.1 million tons of nitrogen oxide emissions annually by 2003. Maryland will be required to cut emissions by 21,182 tons a year.
The EPA is urging the states to focus their nitrogen oxide reduction plans on power-plant emissions, rather than smaller programs such as automobile or small business emissions, because the larger programs are more cost effective.
Maryland put itself ahead of the game in May, when it adopted rules requiring power plants and other major polluters to reduce emissions by 65 percent by May 1999.
Potomac Electric Power Co. and the Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. sued in June, arguing that the state’s time frame for nitrogen oxide emission reductions is impossible to meet. No trial date has been set.
“We are fully in support of clean air, we live in Maryland, too,” said Karl Neddenien, a spokesman for BGE. “We just need more time to physically install the equipment.”
Neddenien said it would take about two years for the largest piece of equipment to be installed, tested and operational.
“It’s a $46 million piece of equipment, you have to do it right,” he said.
Neddenien noted that even though BGE is in compliance with current clean-air standards, it is spending close to $80 million on new emissions-reduction projects.
But the EPA put the cost of removing nitrogen oxide from a power plant at about $1,500 per ton, compared to a cost of up to $10,000 per ton for further emission restrictions on cars and smaller pollution sources.
The AAA is pleased that the EPA has recognized motorists’ smog-reduction efforts, said Anderson. Any more pollution limits placed on motorists at this point would just be too expensive, he said.
EPA Administrator Carol Browner said the new nitrogen oxide plan is the first effort by the agency to protect public health in Eastern states that are downwind of Midwestern smog. Nitrogen oxide is a main component of smog.
Browner said smog can intensify bronchitis, asthma and other respiratory illnesses and in certain circumstances can cause premature death.
The plan unveiled Thursday calls on states to submit their own clean-air plans to the EPA by September 1999. The EPA will force a plan on those states that fail to enact one on their own.
“I think we’re well on the way to doing what we have to do to meet EPA standards,” Quentin Banks, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said Thursday.
To ensure that reductions are as cost-effective as possible, Browner said the EPA has created a “cap-and-trade” program that lets states set a cap on nitrogen oxide emission reductions. Any emissions reduced beyond the cap can be “sold” to facilities in other states that cannot reduce emissions as efficiently.