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EPA Rejects States' Health Concerns Over Upwind Coal Air Pollution

Health + Wellness
Maryland and Delaware petitioned the EPA to reduce emissions from upwind coal plants like the Pocahontas coal plant in West Virginia. Magnolia677 / CC BY-SA 3.0

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a notice Friday denying petitions by the states of Delaware and Maryland for it to recognize that upwind state pollution sources are interfering with their ability to meet ozone standards.

The states had used a provision of the Clean Air Act to petition for reduced nitrogen oxide emissions from coal plants in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, but the EPA found that there wasn't enough evidence that the plants were contributing to elevated ozone levels in the downwind states, InsideClimateNews reported.


"The 111-page notice of denial from the agency shows that Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, is following in the fossil fuel-friendly policy direction set by his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, while being more cautious to spell out the agency's legal reasoning," InsideClimateNews reporter Marianne Lavelle wrote.

Maryland's Attorney General Brian Frosh said Monday that the state would appeal the EPA's decision, The Associated Press reported.

"We intend to appeal EPA's decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, so that Marylanders do not have to continue suffering the consequences of other states' pollution," Frosh said.

The petition was first filed in 2016 and asked the EPA to ensure 36 coal plants in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia run equipment they already had to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions.

Maryland voiced concern about the health of its citizens and environment.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) said nitrogen oxide contributed to algae blooms and dead zones in the bay.

"This is yet another example of EPA putting big business above human health and the environment," CBF Vice President of Litigation Jon Mueller said. "The agency is making it more difficult to achieve Bay clean-up goals by failing to limit interstate air pollution."

Nitrogen oxide helps to form smog, which is a major public health risk linked to early deaths and illnesses like asthma, InsideClimateNews pointed out.

"EPA's irresponsible decision to deny these petitions will cause unnecessary risk to the health of millions of Americans," Environmental Defense Fund senior attorney Graham McCahan, who has helped with Maryland's case, told InsideClimateNews.

Delaware, meanwhile, had filed four petitions asking the EPA to address pollution from plants in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

For example, it wrote that Brunner Island in Pennsylvania had not installed any equipment to mitigate nitrogen oxide pollution after combustion.

The EPA said in its denial that Brunner Island would switch to burning natural gas, even though it won't phase out coal entirely till 2028.

The EPA had delayed responding to these and similar petitions by other states for months, which judges across the country have ruled illegal. A federal judge in Maryland ruled that the EPA had to act on Maryland's petition June 13.

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The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.

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On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

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Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."