WASHINGTON – More than half of all Maryland counties will be affected by new federal ozone standards, but experts say it is too early to tell what direct impact the new rules will have — if any.
The new rules, announced Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency, would reduce the amount of ozone by 30 percent and stretch the standards over an eight-hour measuring period instead of the current one-hour period.
They would also set interstate air-quality rules for 28 Eastern states and Washington, D.C., that limit sulfur and nitrogen oxide emissions, but would give states flexibility in how they met that limit.
The rules call for a 70 percent reduction in mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants by 2015, cuts in sulfur emissions from non-road vehicles such as tractors and bulldozers, and a reduction in particles that are 2.5 microns or smaller — the size most likely to cause respiratory problems.
EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt said the rules try to balance public health and the economic impact of the new standards.
“The idea at a national level is to do the most efficient thing we can,” Leavitt said.
But some critics worry that, while overall pollution limits are lower in the new rules, other aspects will undercut any gains.
“It is a lowering of the standard, but . . . it’s difficult to say definitively that this measure is going to be good,” said Charles Piety, a meteorologist at the University of Maryland.
The biggest concern is the new eight-hour standard, which the EPA is touting as the most-significant initiative in the clean-air package.
Under the current rules, counties cannot produce more than 120 parts of ozone per billion during the course of one hour. The new standard calls for no more than 84 parts per billion averaged over the course of eight hours.
While the new standards take effect in June, states will have until 2007 to tell the EPA how they will meet the new ozone levels. They will not have to actually meet the lower levels until 2010 at the earliest.
The most severe violators have until 2021 to meet federal standards, while moderate violators like Maryland have until 2010. Moderate violators produce between 92 and 107 parts per billion of ozone, while severe violators produce 120 parts per billion or more.
The other big difference for Maryland is that the counties in the state that are currently in “severe” non-attainment of the one-hour standard would not be listed as in “moderate” violation of the eight-hour standard.
Maryland jurisdictions now listed as severe violators of ozone standards include Baltimore City and the counties of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Calvert, Carroll, Cecil, Charles, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Kent, Montgomery, Prince George’s and Queen Anne’s. The will all be moderate violators under the new rules.
Washington County was the only county added to the former list of violators — but it will only be in “basic” violation because it is part of the EPA’s Early Action Compact, a commitment program for counties that are trying to keep from falling into violation of the ozone rules.
-30- CNS 04-15-04