Downwind Delaware Seeks Relief From Cross-State Pollution

By: - December 6, 2012 12:00 am

Delaware’s top air regulator has challenged federal officials to find a way to limit harmful pollution blowing across state lines.

Without action, Delaware will not meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s next batch of air quality standards, despite having drastically reduced its own emissions, said Ali Mirzakhalili, director of air quality at the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

“When the next standards come out,” he said, “we won’t be able to meet them.”

The remarks came Wednesday (December 5) at National Journal’s policy summit on the Clean Air Act, where public officials and advocates for industry and the environment sparred over how the Obama administration should address air quality in its second term.

Mirzakhalili, who described Delaware as the nation’s “tailpipe,” said he hopes the EPA will keep searching for a solution to cross-state pollution problems — one of the most serious environmental issues plaguing his state.

Along with several of its neighbors, Delaware faces sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide blowing in from power plants from the west. The gases react in the atmosphere and create smog and soot, which have been linked to heart and lung disease.

Delaware has slashed local ozone emissions by two-thirds since 1990, Mirzakhalili said, but the pollution from other states continues to push the state over federal limits.

The EPA has tried to rein in traveling air pollution, but its latest effort is tied up in court. In August, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia struck down the agency’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which would set limits on smog- and soot-forming pollutants from power plants, requiring 28 upwind states to cut emissions.

The agency predicted the rule would yield hundreds of billions of dollars in public health and environmental benefits in 2014, while preventing 13,000 to 34,000 premature deaths. But several states, including Alabama, Georgia and Texas, said the rule would additional burdens to the struggling coal sector, forcing power plant closures.

Those states successfully argued the rule ran afoul of the EPA’s Clean Air Act powers, delivering a blow to the Obama administration. The administration has appealed the decision and is awaiting the D.C. court’s decision on whether it will rehear the case.

If the court refuses the case, federal regulators may have to draw up new standards because courts have ruled that Bush-era regulations fail to address public health. Some experts, however, have suggested other new EPA programs, such as its caps on mercury and air toxics for power plants, could fill the void.  

But if the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule somehow survives in its current form, Delaware may still struggle to meet standards expected to be rolled out next year, Mirzakhalili said. That’s because the rule was drawn up to help downwind states meet past targets, which are not as strict.

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