Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced that New York State is seeking to compel the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to address the interstate transport of ozone pollution from sources in states upwind of New York. New York is responding to EPA’s inaction on a petition submitted by DEC on March 12, 2018, which showed that large pollution sources in upwind states are affecting New York’s ability to achieve federal air quality standards for smog. EPA has failed to act on the state’s petition despite granting itself a six-month extension. The New York Attorney General’s office intends to bring suit if EPA does not take required action within 60 days.
DEC Commissioner Seggos said, “EPA needs to do its job of reducing pollution. As the past summer’s elevated ozone levels demonstrate, progress to reduce ozone has stalled despite the success of New York and other northeastern states in reducing emissions. Rather than calling to limit pollution from coal-fired power plants and industrial sources, EPA is allowing these companies to continue or even increase pollution. Our communities suffer as a result, with increased asthma attacks and other respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses to show for it.”
“The Environmental Protection Agency has routinely failed to properly address the issue of interstate smog pollution in the Northeast, and in doing so, failed to address the serious health concerns that come with smog pollution,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “My office is prepared to continue to take legal action against the EPA to force them to confront its legal responsibility to address the unhealthy air that millions of New Yorkers breathe every single day.”
Reducing smog levels is vital to protecting the health of New Yorkers. Elevated levels of smog can cause coughing, throat irritation, lung tissue damage, and the aggravation of existing medical conditions, such as asthma, bronchitis, heart disease, and emphysema. Exposure to ozone is also linked to premature mortality. Children, the elderly, and those with existing lung diseases, such as asthma, are more vulnerable to ozone’s harmful effects.
New York has some of the country’s strictest air quality regulations to reduce the release of pollutants that cause smog, such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). DEC regulates these emissions from power plants, factories, motor vehicles, and other sources and has some of the lowest emissions of NOx and VOCs in the nation. Major stationary sources in New York reduced annual NOx emissions by 43 percent between 2008 and 2014, and the state’s power plants reduced ozone-season NOx emissions by 73 percent between 2008 and 2017.
Despite New York’s actions, the pollution that contributes to smog, such as NOx emitted from power plants and other sources, can travel hundreds of miles across state borders. The federal Clean Air Act recognizes the regional nature of this pollution and that emission sources located in upwind states contribute to smog in downwind states. Because downwind states cannot address this smog on their own, section 126(b) of the federal Clean Air Act allows states to petition the EPA for a finding that any upwind source or group of sources that emit(s) pollutants to an extent that affects the ability of downwind areas to attain federal standards, thus violating the Act’s “Good Neighbor” provision. If approved by EPA, the petition would require these upwind sources to comply with new emission limitations or shut down.
New York submitted its section 126(b) petition on March 12, 2018, and identified sources in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia that are contributing to clean air violations in New York. EPA received this petition on March 14, 2018, and was required by the Clean Air Act to act within 60 days but granted itself a six-month extension to November 9, 2018. To date, EPA has failed to act on New York’s petition. The New York’s Attorney General’s office has therefore announced its intention to file suit against EPA to force the federal agency to carry out its mandated duty.