Maryland Moves Forward on Clean Air Regulations to Reduce Pollution From State’s Coal-Fired Power Plants and Protect Public Health

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Maryland Moves Forward on Clean Air Regulations to Reduce Pollution From State’s Coal-Fired Power Plants and Protect Public Health

Department of the Environment submits emergency action that implements new requirements to ensure public health protection; action could become effective as early as May 2


Baltimore, MD (April 17, 2015) – 
The Maryland Department of the Environment today proposed regulations to reduce air pollution from the state’s coal-fired power plants and ensure the immediate public health benefits of protecting Marylanders from breathing unhealthy levels of ozone air pollution.

The proposed regulations would implement for this summer’s ozone season the immediate public health protections contained in a previous proposal. The Department of the Environment will also initiate a process to determine the best approach to ensure longer-term air pollution reductions to protect public health while promoting a healthy and sustainable economy. The public health protections associated with these long-term emissions reductions will be equal to or greater than those in the previously proposed regulations.

“Clean air is crucial to the health of Maryland’s citizens,” said Governor Larry Hogan. “We can cut smog and protect jobs at the same time, and that’s great news for the state and the hardworking people who live here.”

“We are committed to putting into place immediate controls for cleaner air, and we’re also committed to finding the best path forward for longer-term controls and collaborations with neighboring and upwind states to protect air quality well into the future,” said MDE Secretary Ben Grumbles. “Thoughtful strategies and regulations will improve air quality, help restore the Chesapeake Bay and sustain our economy.”

In addition to the steps being taken beginning today, Maryland is working to reduce ozone levels through new efforts to reduce emissions from mobile sources such as cars and trucks and an increased emphasis on reducing emissions in states that are upwind of Maryland.

In December 2014, the Department submitted proposed regulations to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides, which help form the pollutant ground-level ozone. Those proposed regulations were held in January for further review. MDE today submitted an emergency action that could be adopted and enforceable as early as May 2.

Ground-level ozone is created when two types of air pollutants – nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) – react in the presence of sunlight and warm temperatures.  These air pollutants are generated from industrial facilities and electric power plants, motor vehicle exhaust and gasoline vapors. Unhealthy levels of ozone can irritate the respiratory system — causing coughing, throat irritation and chest pains and aggravating asthma and other chronic lung diseases.  Ozone and other air pollutants have also been linked to premature death.

Reducing air pollution improves public health. Actions that reduce nitrogen pollution that can be deposited to the ground and waterways also help to restore the Chesapeake Bay. In recent years Maryland has implemented the Maryland Healthy Air Act, the toughest power plant emissions law on the East Coast, and the Maryland Clean Cars Program.  Maryland power plants have invested $2.6 billion in technology to comply with the Maryland Healthy Air Act.

Reflecting a trend of continued, dramatic improvements in the quality of the air that Marylanders breathe, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found that the metropolitan Baltimore area is for the first time in more than three decades meeting the health-based federal standard for ground-level ozone pollution. The EPA’s “Clean Data Determination,” proposed in the March 18 Federal Register, reflects air monitoring data for the past three years for the area that includes Baltimore City and Baltimore, Ann Arundel, Howard, Harford and Carroll counties. That data shows that the area did not exceed the current ozone standard for the first time since measurements began in 1980.

Statewide, only two air quality monitors out of the 20 in the monitoring network are reading ozone values that exceed the current standard, and those readings are only seen one or two days a year in recent years. Those monitors are in Cecil County and Prince George’s County, and they represent about 10 percent of Maryland’s population. Maryland has had no Code Red air quality days for ozone in either of the past two summers.

The improvements in ozone pollution levels come as Maryland’s air quality has shown even greater progress in reducing fine particle pollution. Maryland has been meeting the federal standard for that pollutant since 2008.  Maryland has also been able to meet a more rigorous standard for fine particle pollution that took effect in 2012.

The reductions expected from the implementation of the emergency action for nitrogen oxides emissions from the state’s coal-fired power plants are expected to be significant and to be part of a series of initiatives that will allow Maryland to attain and maintain compliance with the current health-based, federal standard for ozone pollution. However, continued reductions are necessary because the EPA is expected to propose a new, more stringent ozone standard this year. Maryland continues to seek emission reductions to ensure that progress made is not lost as the State begins the process of meeting the pending, more stringent standard.

In addition to the emergency action proposed today, Maryland is working in collaboration with more than 25 states to reduce power plant emissions that cause ozone pollution that crosses state lines and affects air quality for the citizens of Mid-Atlantic states. About 70 percent of Maryland’s ozone pollution originates in upwind states. Maryland is also working in partnership with other states to reduce emissions from cars and paints and other consumer products to continue to lower ozone levels.

The proposed emergency action is designed to ensure that coal-fired power plants are optimizing current pollution controls to minimize emissions during the summer 2015 ozone season.  The action is expected to reduce NOx emissions significantly and provide immediate additional public health protection.

The emergency action has been submitted to the Joint Committee on Administrative Executive and Legislative Review (AELR) for review under the committee’s procedures. The regulations would become effective immediately after AELR approval. An emergency action remains in effect for a limited period of time – not to exceed 180 days – to meet pressing circumstances. In addition to the proposed emergency action, MDE has submitted proposed permanent regulations that would mirror those in the emergency action.

MDE will also work with all stakeholders and consider options for moving forward to provide greater public health protections by 2020. Those options include moving ahead with the requirements as previously proposed for future years or with a revised proposed regulation that would provide equal or greater public health protection while also providing flexibility to support a health economy and protect jobs. MDE expects to move forward with this second step over the next few months, with plans to make a formal proposal by early fall 2015.

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