Maryland Department of the Environment releases annual clean air progress report
Report describes progress, further action to reduce air pollution in Maryland
Baltimore, MD (April 18, 2017) – Despite one the hottest summers ever recorded locally, Maryland continued to make dramatic progress on reducing air pollution and improving air quality according to finding in a new report by the Maryland Department of the Environment. The report was released ahead of Air Quality Awareness Week, which is observed May 1-5.
The department’s Maryland Clean Air 2017 Progress Report states that, in 2016, most areas of Maryland continued to meet the 2008 health-based ozone standard and remain close to meeting the new, more stringent, 2015 ozone standard. It also finds that Maryland is meeting all federal standards for fine particulate air pollution and that levels of that pollutant continue to drop annually. Ozone and fine particulate pollution are Maryland’s biggest air quality issues.
The report describes the strong evidence that Maryland’s pollution control programs, including Governor Larry Hogan’s more stringent requirements for coal-fired power plants, are working to clean the air. The report also points to steps being taken to further improve air quality, including passage of legislation introduced by the Hogan administration to encourage the purchase of electric vehicles and efforts to reduce out-of-state pollution that negatively impacts Maryland’s air quality.
“We’re making clean air progress with strong partnerships and steady investments, but more is needed regionally and nationally to sustain our pace and protect our health,” Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles said. “Marylanders’ hearts, lungs and waterways will benefit from smart actions at home and in upwind states to keep improving our air quality.”
Reducing air pollution improves public health, and actions that reduce nitrogen pollution that can be deposited to the ground and waterways also help to restore the Chesapeake Bay.
In recognition of Air Quality Awareness Week, the Department of the Environment is encouraging all citizens to follow its air quality forecasts, learn how air quality affects your health and take steps to help keep Maryland’s air clean.
Summer 2016 and Maryland’s power plant regulations
According to the department’s annual Clean Air progress report, Maryland experienced the sixth-warmest summer ever recorded last year.
“Despite that type of weather — which usually ushers in high levels of air pollution because of increased electricity generation and the hot sun’s effect on pollutants — Maryland continued to make dramatic progress in cleaning up the air,” the report states, adding:
“Maryland’s more stringent requirements for coal-fired power plants were in effect during the summer of 2016 and significantly reduced emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOX), a compound that helps form ozone. The summers of 2013-2015 were much cooler than last year’s. While the hotter weather in 2016 inevitably led to an increase in ozone, the number of bad air days, the number of hours of bad air on those days, the daily peak and the geographic expanse of bad air on those days were all less than what was seen during hot summers at the start of the decade. The more stringent power plant regulations effectively reduced up to 12 tons of NOx per day in the summer of 2016. This is strong evidence that Maryland’s programs are working to clean the air.”
The power plant regulations put into place in 2015 build upon the Maryland Healthy Air Act, which required reductions in large power plant emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, mercury and greenhouse gases in previous years. Maryland power plants have invested $2.6 billion in technology to comply with that law.
The fight against smog
Maryland’s air quality has improved dramatically in the past decade.
Ground level ozone, or smog, has been Maryland’s most challenging air pollution problem for the past 30 years. At one point, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated Maryland as having the worst ozone anywhere east of the Mississippi.
In 2016, both the Baltimore area and the Washington, D.C., area continued to meet the 2008 ozone standard and both are close to meeting the 2015 ozone standard. Ozone in the Wilmington-Philadelphia area, which includes Cecil County, is slightly higher, but the area is close to meeting the 2008 standard and is working to meet the 2015 standard.
Cutting bad air from out-of-state
Research shows that pollution from upwind states can on many days account for 70 percent of the Maryland’s ozone problem. Maryland has a long history of working in partnership with other states and taking action, when necessary, to reduce “incoming ozone.” These efforts have begun to show results: nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants in upwind states have decreased in recent years.
In November 2016, Maryland submitted a petition under Section 126 of the federal Clean Air asking the EPA to require 36 power plant units in five upwind states to run their air pollution controls every day of the summer ozone season to reduce emissions – consistent with the requirement for Maryland plants under state regulations. The report states that the resulting emissions reductions would decrease ozone levels in Maryland and could determine whether many areas of the state attain the updated ozone standard. The requirement would also lower fine particulate pollution levels in Maryland.
Vehicles are a significant source of air pollution. The recently adopted Clean Cars Act of 2017, a bill introduced by Governor Hogan, will provide tax incentives through 2020 to encourage consumers to buy electric vehicles. Maryland has also begun to invest in the infrastructure needed to ensure that consumers can easily charge their electric vehicles.
As part of recent federal settlements with automaker Volkswagen for installing devices that allowed vehicles to exceed emissions standards and pollute the state’s air, Maryland is eligible to receive about $76 million dollars from an environmental mitigation trust fund. This money is expected to dramatically enhance the state’s efforts on Electric Vehicles and help Maryland with efforts to reduce emissions from diesel vehicles and other pollution sources. In a partnership between the Port of Baltimore, the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Maryland Department of Transportation, more than $1 million has already been invested in clean diesel projects at the Port of Baltimore.
The Maryland Clean Cars Act of 2007 requires stricter-than-EPA standards to reduce emissions, including greenhouse gases and pollutants that help create ozone, and requirements for zero emission vehicles.
Measuring sulfur dioxide
In 2010, a new health-based standard for sulfur dioxide was finalized. In 2016, based on air quality modeling, the EPA identified a small area in Anne Arundel and Baltimore Counties as potentially not meeting this new standard. Contrary to EPA’s air quality modeling, modeling conducted that reflected actual operating conditions shows that the area in question is meeting the new SO2 standard.
Results from the two existing sulfur dioxide monitors in the state show dramatic downward trends, with levels in 2016 that were well below the new standard. Maryland is working with residents and EPA to install a sulfur dioxide monitor that will more accurately demonstrate whether there is an issue with that pollutant in the area. Maryland is being proactive to protect public health and has already begun to implement new measures to further reduce sulfur dioxide emissions.
Reducing greenhouse gases
In 2016, Maryland, working in partnership with the Maryland Commission on Climate Change, began to develop the plan required by the Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Act of 2016. This plan will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 while also supporting a healthy economy and the creation of new jobs. New initiatives for 2016 and 2017 include Governor Hogan’s Clean Cars Act of 2017, enhancements to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) that are being discussed by the nine RGGI states, a ban on hydraulic fracturing, new efforts to reduce methane emissions and the Healthy Soils program.
“The Hogan Administration is committed to bipartisan solutions that protect the environment, while growing the economy and providing affordable and reliable energy to Maryland citizens and communities,” Secretary Grumbles said.
Maryland Clean Air 2017 Progress Report
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