Delaware’s ‘downwind’ problems

    Two air pollutants are at the heart of a dispute among neighboring states that involves Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

    The Environmental Protection Agency says its Cross-State Air Pollution Rule will protect “downwind” states such as Delaware from pollutants spewed by power plants in “upwind” states such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Ohio.

     

    Taunya English’s story is part of a project on health in the states–a partnership of WHYY, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

    Two air pollutants are at the heart of a dispute among neighboring states that involves Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

    The Environmental Protection Agency says its Cross-State Air Pollution Rule will protect “downwind” states such as Delaware from pollutants spewed by power plants in “upwind” states such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Ohio.

    The rule, which faces a string of legal challenges, would force 27 states to install better emission controls to curb sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. Those gases form fine particles that pollute ground level ozone and pose health hazards.

    U.S. Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware says allowing emissions to drift east hurts Delaware’s health and economy.

    “States to the west of us are able to generate cheap electricity. These are states that we are vying with–competing with–for jobs,” he said. “We had to take more expensive approaches to reducing our own air emissions, and we ended up with higher health-care costs because we’re breathing dirty air from other parts of the country.”

    Carper, who says as much as 90 percent of Delaware’s pollution comes from other states, said that makes it hard for the First State to achieve federal air-quality standards on its own.

    Power plants in states to the west have failed to install sufficient pollution controls, said Carper. Some coal plants have built tall smoke stacks, he said, that send pollution high into the air stream where it floats east.

    Delaware’s environment secretary Collin O’Mara said Delaware has already made significant pollution-control investments. Making further improvements will be costly, he said.

    Delaware may have to invest $5,000 to $10,000 to eliminate a ton of nitrogen oxides, O’Mara said, while “upwind” states may have to spend only $300 to $400 to remove the same amount of pollution.

    Brenna Goggin, an advocate with the Delaware Nature Society, said Delaware already has strong in-state safeguards.

    “Other than putting up huge fans, all around our borders to blow the pollution somewhere else, I don’t know if there’s necessarily a solution that Delaware can do by itself,” Goggin said. “We need the cooperation of all of our surrounding states to address this problem.”

    U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is gathering support for a congressional review vote that could override the EPA rule.

    Carper, who said there may be a vote this week, intends to stand up to the move.

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