By Candia Dames
WASHINGTON – Half of the state’s counties are unlikely to meet one or more tougher air pollution standards that the Environmental Protection Agency will soon impose, according to a report released Thursday by a national coalition of environmental groups.
“This is worrisome information,” said John Walke, a Natural Resources Defense Council spokesman. “You’re going to be seeing a lot of residents in the state of Maryland who are living in areas that have more smog.”
The findings in “Darkening Skies” were part of broadside attack on the Bush administration’s air quality initiatives, which propose national caps on emissions and which would let polluters continue to exceed emissions standards if they bought credits from plants that meet or better the standards.
Environmentalists charged that the national caps will allow more pollution overall and will lead to areas in violation of the new standards, like those in Maryland.
But EPA officials said it is not surprising that the 12 jurisdictions in Maryland will fall short of the new standards, since most do not meet the old, looser standards.
“The new standards are stricter standards, so obviously any county that was having trouble attaining the old standards will have problems meeting the new ones,” said Donna Heron, an EPA spokeswoman.
The report, which used EPA data to draw its conclusions, said that Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Calvert, Carroll, Cecil, Charles, Frederick, Harford, Kent, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties are not likely to meet a new ozone standard. All of those currently violate the old standard, said Heron, and only Kent has a chance of coming into compliance this year.
Current regulations cap ozone emissions at an average of 0.12 ppm in one hour. The new standard would limit ozone to an average of 0.08 parts per million (ppm) in an eight-hour period.
The report also said Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore City will probably not meet a new standard that would regulate fine soot particles as small as 2.5 microns in diameter.
A Maryland Department of the Environment spokesman questioned the report’s findings, since EPA guidelines on how the new standards will be implemented are still being devised.
“We’re just going to have to wait to see what the rules for meeting these new standards are first,” Rich McIntire said.
Heron said final guidelines for implementing the new standards are not due until next year. States will have three years after that to submit plans on how they will comply.
The report also named Maryland one of the “sooty seven” states that had a net increase of at least 20,000 tons of sulfur dioxides between 1995 and 2000.
But McIntire said the increase did not push the state into non-attainment.
“Maryland has never really had a sulfur dioxide problem and we don’t now,” McIntire said.
Despite the criticism, Heron said that, overall, she would rather have the new standards than not.
“These standards are a lot stricter, but they are going to mean better air, cleaner air for everyone,” she said.