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EPA refuses Delaware and Maryland pleas to address smog pollution

The EPA has said Delaware and Maryland's request to address smog pollution from coal plants in neighbouring states is not grounded in enough evidence

America’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has rejected pleas from states Maryland and Delaware to address “smog pollution” from coal-fired power plants in other states - which they claim is making their residents sick.

The eastern US states asked the EPA to order these upwind coal plants, including 36 in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, to reduce their emissions of nitrogen oxide pollution under a provision outlined in the Clean Air Act.

But the 111-page notice of denial, signed off by EPA acting administrator and former coal industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler on 14 September, states there isn’t sufficient evidence of the states’ claims to comply with their joint request.

Graham McCahan, a senior attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund, which had joined in Maryland’s case, said: “The EPA’s irresponsible decision to deny these petitions will cause unnecessary risk to the health of millions of Americans.

“Maryland and Delaware have offered proven and affordable solutions to the problem of dangerous air pollution that is encroaching on them from neighbouring states.

“We’ll keep working to help them—and other downwind states—provide cleaner, safer air for their people.”

smog pollution
Acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler - Credit: Wikipedia/Eric Vance

The EPA’s case against smog pollution complaints

The EPA’s main reason for refusing the request from Maryland and Delaware was because there wasn’t enough evidence that upwind states and sources are significantly contributing to the claimants’ problems with ground level ozone - also know as smog.

However, the agency also argued that another section of the law is responsible for dealing with cross border pollution issues, therefore invalidating the motion outright.

Lastly, it said there are no existing cost effective steps the coal plants could take to reduce their emissions withing the requirements outlined by law.

While the recently refused case marked the first petition from Maryland to the EPA to address smog, Delaware had filed four previously, specifically concerning coal plants in neighbouring states Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Its previous claims include arguing that the Brunner Island in Pennsylvania has no contingencies in place to limit nitrogen oxide pollution.

The EPA responded to this by stating that it expected the plant would operate solely on natural gas in the future after its operator, Talen Energy, agreed to remove the use of coal by 2028.

Smog is formed when nitrogen oxide mixes with sunlight organic chemicals already in the atmosphere, and can cause asthma attacks, long-term lung damage and even death.