Delaware tells upwind states to clean up their air

 (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Delaware and seven other Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states say they’re sick and tired of dirty air from nine upwind states polluting their air.

“On several days a year, 40 million people in our region breathe unhealthy air, and most of the pollution they breathe on those days comes from the upwind states,” said Delaware Governor Jack Markell from Washington, D.C. 

Delaware, along with Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont filed a petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today to require nine upwind states — Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia — to reduce air pollution emissions that are then carried to states downwind of them. 

The petition cites decades of inaction and asks the EPA to require the nine named states to join what is known as the ‘Ozone Transport Region.’ Under the federal Clean Air Act, states in the OTR must take actions to limit air pollution. The eight states that filed the petition are all current members of the OTR.

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Delaware Dept. of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Collin O’Mara, also in D.C., says enlisting help from the EPA was a last resort for some type of accountability.  

“We have worked voluntarily with the other states trying to find solutions with this issue… there’s been legislative efforts, there have been different conversations, formal and informal, and we have pretty much been rebuffed at every turn.”

The letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy points out expanding the OTR is also cost-effective stating the cost of removing an additional ton of pollution in downwind states is estimated at between $10,000 to $40,000 compared to as little as $500 a ton in upwind states.

Golden Rule

Markell says more than 90 percent of Delaware’s air pollution comes from these out-of-state sources.

“This means that we could shut off every source of emission in Delaware and still not meet air quality standards. That’s unacceptable and demands action,” said Markell.

The eight filing states says they’ve spent tens of billions of dollars to reduce their own air emissions and are asking the named states in the petition to simply be good neighbors and live by the Golden Rule. 

“We’re not asking anybody to do anything that we have not already done ourselves. We’ve cleaned up power plants and worked with every industrial facility in our state. We’ve pushed to cleaner fuels, we’ve adopted state-of-the-art pollution controls and replaced dirty legacy units with new generation,” said Markell who pointed out that Delaware has reduced emissions in the state by more than 70 percent since 1990.

Markell says emissions from upwind states result in more health care costs for Delawareans seeking treatment for respiratory illnesses caused by exposure to unhealthy levels of ozone, and force industries in the state to have to do more than those in states causing all of the pollution.

“We need a level playing field among states to ensure that all states can enjoy healthy air,” Markell said.

Democrats only

All of the governors from the eight states enlisting help from the EPA are Democrats. 

“It should not surprise anyone that the Republican party has been adverse to EPA for many years… I suspect it’s very difficult for Republican officeholders to ask the EPA to do anything publicly, even though they know that it would be best for their citizenry to do that,” said Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy. “Connecticut is tired of serving as the tailpipe of America.”

“The science here is the same whether you’re a Democrat or Republican. And I have a strong sense that in my state, as well as probably the states of the other governors who have filed this petition, you would find plenty of Republicans who would support the action that we’ve taken,” Markell said.

Timing is everything

Today’s announcement comes one day before the U.S. Supreme Court reviews the EPA’s Cross State Air Pollution Rule, known as a ‘good neighbor’ provision. 

The rule would require as many as 28 upwind states cut ozone and other emissions for the benefit of their neighbors to the east. A federal appeals court struck down the EPA rule and 24 states are calling on the justices to uphold that call.

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