Although improvements in air quality have been made in Maryland as well as nationwide over the past fifteen years, summertime smog levels in Harford County and Prince George’s County are among the worst in the nation. According to the new report released by the American Lung Association about two weeks ago, one-half of Americans live in places where smog and soot pollution makes it dangerous to breathe at times. Harford County was ranked 13th worst, and Prince George’s County was ranked 21st. In addition, in 22 out of the 25 metro areas with the worst ozone pollution, which includes the Baltimore-Washington Area, there was a peak in smog from 2010-2012, compared to the previous three years. In Maryland, the abnormally hot summer of 2012 drove smog levels up to dangerous levels for 30 individual days, compared to only nine days in 2013. George Aburn, director of air management of the Maryland Department of Environment says that ozone pollution primarily comes from other states, so state officials have pressed the EPA to resolve the problem.
After many attempts by the EPA to determine a “legally acceptable” way to regulate states contributing to pollution problems in downwind states, the Supreme Court ruled that 27 Midwestern and Appalachian states will be forced to reduce power plant pollution that blows downwind. Last Tuesday, there was a 6-2 decision that ruled that the EPA may limit emissions that create smog and soot that drifts into the air above states along the East Coast. This was adopted because the cross-border pollution prevents cities and counties from complying with health-based pollution standards by law, because they have no authority to control it. This new ruling would cost power plant operators $800 million in 2014 and annually; however, the EPA states that the investment is worth it because of the hundreds of billions of dollars in health care savings from cleaner air. Also, there would be a prevention of 30,000 premature deaths and thousands of illnesses a year with the new rule. There is much opposition coming from power-plant operators who believe that this is a way for the administration to shut them down, as well as from states who claimed they had no voice in determining their individual impact on emissions in neighboring states.
In my opinion, there is no one formula to determine how much each state has individually contributed to the pollution in downwind states. I don’t believe it is fair to have each state take accountability for more or less than they contributed. Furthermore, it is complicated to regulate a rule like this when wind patterns are not uniform. I applaud the initiative to want to reduce emissions in order to have clean air, especially since I suffer from asthma. However, it seems as if there is miscommunication between the Clean Air Act and the EPA and they are supposed to be working cooperatively. Overall, it is nearly impossible to determine the exact amount of pollution that a state produces. As a result, it becomes expensive to implement, ineffective to regulate.
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