Administration Takes a Pass on Multistate Petition to Fight ‘Upwind’ Air Pollution

Tom Johnson | December 10, 2013 | Energy & Environment
Signers lobby EPA to require states south and west of region to cut down on emissions within their borders

chris christie
For the second time this fall, the Christie administration has declined to join a multistate effort to curb air pollution.

Eight Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states yesterday asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to require states to the west and south to take steps to reduce emissions within their borders. The pollution is carried by prevailing winds, contributing to increased asthma attacks, respiratory disease, and other public health problems, according to the eight states.

The petition, seeking to force nine states to take steps to limit air pollution under an EPA order, was first reported Monday in the New York Times.

New Jersey is the only one of nine members of the Ozone Transport Commission (OTC) not to sign the petition. The organization was created in the 1990s to combat air pollution on a regional basis. In October, the Christie administration also opted not to join a multistate effort to promote electric cars and zero-emission vehicles, a move that would help reduce the pollution and greenhouse gases that contribute to smog and global climate change.

Why the state failed to join the latest effort is uncertain. The NJ Department of Environmental Protection did not respond to a call or an e-mail seeking explanation. An assistant commissioner of the state environmental agency, Jane Kozinski, serves as vice chair of the OTC.

To environmentalists, the failure to join the petition reflects Gov. Chris Christie putting his presidential ambitions ahead of what is good for New Jersey residents.

“Everything this guy has done is about presidential politics,’’ said David Pringle, campaign coordinator for the New Jersey Environmental Federation, which endorsed Christie in his initial run for office, but backed Democrat Sen. Barbara Buono in the recent gubernatorial election.

Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, agreed. “He’s clearly passing the buck and not going after the Midwest and other power plants. Look at his travel record, the governor is thinking about the Midwest, and not New Jersey.’’

Ozone is a longstanding source of dispute between the so-called downwind states, including New Jersey, and the upwind states. New Jersey and other states within the region have imposed tougher pollution controls over the years on power plants — a strategy that has increased utility bills and made it harder to compete with generating units in other states with lower environmental standards.

The upwind states — Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia — have a much larger number of coal plants than those in the Northeast, which produce much more pollution than those in the OTC region.

Those downwind states cite the EPA’s own modeling, which shows that interstate transport of air pollution contributes significantly to violations of health-based air quality standards for ground-level ozone, which leads to smog during the summer. As much as 70 percent to 98 percent of this ozone is blown in from upwind states. And parts of some downwind states, including New Jersey, would remain in violation of federal standards even if they eliminated all of the pollution generated within their borders.

New Jersey has never achieved the federal air-quality standard for ozone despite having what many business lobbyists say are some of the most stringent pollution controls in the country.

Christie, in his initial term, has been aggressive in trying to close down on heavily polluting coal plants, continuing a lawsuit initiated by his predecessor to shutter a coal plant in Pennsylvania, on the banks of the Delaware River.

Pringle said the Governor’s strategy was mistaken. “He thinks it is better to go after one coal plant at a time, rather than all coal plants at once,’’ he said, ‘’which is proof positive, he is more talking about good, rather than doing good.’’

Other governors who signed petition say they, too, have been taking steps to reduce pollution from facilities in their states, only to fail to see similar reductions in other regions.

“Delaware air quality remains overwhelmed by air pollution from upwind states, even though we have reduced emissions within Delaware of ozone-forming pollution by more than 70 percent since 1990,’’ said Delaware Gov. Jack Markell. “We need a level playing field among states to ensure that all states can enjoy healthy air.’’

The petition asks the EPA to adopt similar pollution controls adopted by the states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. The EPA administrator has 18 months to act on the petition.