CONCORD — New Hampshire and seven other Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states on Monday petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to force nine upwind states to reduce air pollution generated within their borders, citing asthma, respiratory disease and other public health problems downwind.
"For the people of New Hampshire to live the healthy, productive lives that they deserve, our air needs to be as clean as possible," said Gov. Maggie Hassan in announcing the state's participation in the petition.
"Unfortunately, too often, air pollution blows into our state from areas of the country that haven't undertaken all of the clean air measures that we have in New Hampshire. It is unacceptable for our citizens to suffer from poor air quality because of the inaction of upwind states, and this petition will encourage the EPA to hold those states accountable."
The multi-state action is aimed at Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. It calls on them to reduce polluting emissions, primarily from coal-fired power plants, that are carried by prevailing winds and contribute to the formation of ozone in downwind states like New Hampshire.
"Even if the people of New Hampshire took every car off the road, we would, at best, reduce ozone by only three percent on bad air days," Hassan said. "And on those bad air days, New Hampshire receives more than 95 percent of its air pollution from upwind states."
The petition cites decades of inaction by the upwind states during which time the eight Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states have spent tens of billions of dollars to reduce their own air emissions, the governor said.
The petition asks the EPA to require the nine states to join the petitioning states in what is known as the "Ozone Transport Region" (OTR). Under the federal Clean Air Act, states added to the OTR would have to take actions consistent with the air pollution efforts of downwind states through use of emission controls and reliance on cleaner fuels to generate power.
States joining New Hampshire in filing the petition — all current members of the OTR — are Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. The EPA is required to approve or deny the petition within 18 months.
The petitioning states claim that air pollution from upwind states is transported into New England and the North Atlantic states on prevailing westerly winds from the Ohio River Valley and from the southwest along the Interstate-95 urban corridor that extends north from Washington D.C.
The action comes as the U.S. Supreme Court begins its review of an earlier appeals court rejection of the EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.
In a case being closely monitored by environmentalists and energy companies, the Supreme Court will today consider the EPA rule, which would set limits on pollution from coal-fired power plants in 28 states, generally referred to as "upwind states," that directly affect air quality in other states.
An alliance of industry groups and 15 states challenged the rule, which as a result was never implemented. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit determined in August 2012 that the rule was invalid on multiple grounds.
A spokesman for Delaware Gov. Jack Markell told Reuters that standards the petitioning states are proposing are more stringent than the EPA's cross-state rule.
"With a legal cloud hanging over the EPA's attempt to reduce inter-state pollution, this petition could provide much-needed relief for breathers in the affected states," said Frank O'Donnell, president of the environmental group Clean Air Watch.
Vickie Patton, general counsel for environmental group Environmental Defense Fund, said it is also in the interest of the upwind states to install pollution controls.
"Cleaning up this harmful power plant pollution will mean healthier, longer lives for children, families and communities across the Midwest and the millions of people afflicted in downwind states," she said.
Material from Reuters was used in this report.