WASHINGTON – Maryland should see the “most dramatic” emissions reductions in the Mid-Atlantic under the Clean Air Interstate Rule that took effect Thursday, officials with the Environmental Protection Agency said.
But while the state as a whole will benefit under the new federal rules, the Baltimore area is still not expected to attain EPA ozone standards by 2015. Of 33 areas that currently fall short of federal standards, all but Baltimore and Philadelphia are expected to come up to snuff by 2015 as a result of CAIR.
“It’s a half-step in the right direction,” said Nate Mund, senior Washington representative of the Sierra Club, who said the emissions cuts should have been deeper and come sooner.
The Clean Air Interstate Rule establishes a cap-and-trade system for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions in the Eastern United States. Under the rule, industries will be able to trade or sell emissions “allowances,” so that if one plant exceeds its cap, it can buy credits from a plant that has cut emissions below its goal.
Maryland will be allotted a certain level of emissions which will be dispensed among the industry producers of these pollutants.
Most reductions are expected to come from power plants. Coal-burning power plants, in particular, will be targeted, said EPA spokeswoman Donna Heron.
The EPA predicts that by 2015, sulfur dioxide emissions in Maryland will have fallen by 245,000 tons, or 91 percent, and nitrogen oxide emissions will be 56,000 tons, or 82 percent, below 2003 levels. That compares to estimated reductions of 61 percent for nitrogen oxide and 73 percent for sulfur dioxide for all Eastern states.
“Maryland will have the most dramatic emissions reduction of any of the states in Region 3,” said Judith Katz, director of the EPA Air Protection Division for the Mid-Atlantic.
But the Baltimore area will remain in non-attainment of EPA ozone standards by 2015, six years later than the current 2009 EPA deadline under the Clean Air Act.
“Very large urban areas seem to have a more difficult time,” Katz said. “In Maryland there are going to be local control measures that will have to be implemented specifically for ozone.”
Much of Baltimore’s pollution comes from transportation sources, such as cars and trucks.
“Those contribute a large percentage to the non attainment problem,” Katz said. “We predict we’ll probably be having to look at those sources over the next few years.”
Brad Heavner, director of the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, said it is not surprising that CAIR will not address Baltimore’s problems.
“We’re dancing around the big thing that is still polluting our air,” Heavner said. “Cars and trucks.”
Mund said the rule is not the definitive solution to this region’s problems.
“Power plants are the low-hanging fruit, the best place to get these reductions,” Mund said. “The technology exists to do all this, but we haven’t held people accountable and made them use this technology.”
A spokesman for the Maryland Department of Environment said the agency could not comment because it had not had a chance to review the federal rule, which was just released Thursday morning.
Donald S. Welsh, EPA regional administrator for the Mid-Atlantic, conceded that the new rule will not specifically address the problem of vehicle pollution.
“You’re going to have to do more on the local side of the equation” to deal with that if attainment is still projected to be a problem, he said.
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