Northeast States Press For Clean Air

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The attorneys general of nine northeastern states today warned the Bush administration not to undermine an ongoing state-federal effort to reduce power plant pollution that causes smog, acid rain and respiratory disease.

At a Washington, D.C. news conference, the attorneys general of New York, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont called on the Bush administration to work with northeastern states in seeking reductions in power plant air pollution.

It has been widely reported that the Bush administration will shortly announce plans to significantly weaken the Clean Air Act of 1970, enforcement of which is widely credited with improving air quality around the nation. Such a rollback in air quality protections will have a devastating impact on public health and the environment, particularly in the Northeast.

Prevailing winds blow smokestack pollution from large coal-burning power plants in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states hundreds of miles before it falls over the Northeast as acid rain or acid snow, or in the form of fine particles that contribute to premature death. Power plant pollution also creates smog and triggers respiratory diseases such as asthma.

The Clean Air Act requires that power plants install modern air pollution controls when the plants are modified or upgraded. Some utilities have violated the law by undertaking major improvements and upgrades to their power plants without also installing the required pollution controls.
New York State Attorney General Spitzer said: "The Bush administration is preparing the most dangerous attack on air quality since the Clean Air Act was adopted. The environmental and public health impacts of the changes administration officials are preparing will be devastating if this misguided action occurs. The only beneficiaries of this indefensible policy would be the operators of dirty power plants, coal companies and the oil industry."

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said: "In secret meetings, power plant owners seem to be ghost writing their own air pollution standards. Senior Administration officials have shut us out – denying access and information to state enforcement officials who seek clean, healthy air for our citizens to breathe. Gutting NSR is an embarrassment and an outrage – literally a matter of life and breath.

Environmental policy shouldn’t be dictated by the Department of Energy and special interest polluters. They are apparently now supplanting EPA and bringing federal environmental enforcement to the brink of an historic, monumental surrender."

Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe said: "Pollution from dirty, coal-fired power plants in the Midwest hurts Maine’s efforts to comply with federal ozone standards and causes smog and acid rain throughout the Northeast. If the Bush Administration weakens regulations governing these utilities, it will be at the expense of the health of the Maine people."

Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said: "In addition to the health risks posed by these proposed changes, there is a significant impact on our environment. Years of research have concluded that nutrient loading to the Chesapeake Bay is the primary cause of the decline of living resources in this unique water body. I fear that the proposed changes will put the Bay at even greater risk and this should not be allowed to happen."

Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly said: "We must not trade away the health of our citizens for the convenience of the coal and oil industries. The Clean Air Act saves lives, reduces health risks and protects the environment. Let’s not gut it in the name of regulatory reform."
New Hampshire Attorney General Philip T. McLaughlin said: "If the federal government rolls back its rules to make it easier to keep aging high-polluting power plants alive, the northeast will be the sacrificial lamb to increase the profits of a few Midwestern utilities. The citizens of New Hampshire and others in the northeast will pay the real costs in the form of health impacts from smog and acid rain attacks on their lakes and forests. The federal government must act to reduce, not increase, upwind power plant emissions. If it doesn’t, New Hampshire’s economy, which depends so much on our natural resources, will continue to subsidize Midwestern polluters."
New Jersey Attorney General John Farmer Jr. said: "The air quality for our entire state currently violates the EPA’s health standard for ozone. That means that every person in New Jersey breathes air that puts them a increased risk for asthma and other respiratory diseases. Over the years New Jersey has taken numerous strict regulatory measures to reduce its own sources of pollution, but cannot achieve the national air standards without the pollution from upwind states being greatly reduced. That’s why we have joined the Department of Justice, EPA, and other states and citizens’ groups in fighting to limit pollutants from out-of-state coal-fired electric generating utilities. And that’s also why the NSR provisions of the Clean Air Act should be strengthened, not weakened, so that the citizens of New Jersey and the entire Northeast are protected from breathing unhealthy air."

Rhode Island Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse said: "Right now, outdated coal-fired electric plants in the Midwest make cheap power for Midwestern corporations, and prevailing winds blow their pollution onto us. The ozone pollution from the Midwest is so bad that even if we stopped all our in-state emissions entirely, we would still fail federal ozone standards in Rhode Island. We are asking the federal government to be fair to New England, to do the right thing by the environment, and to enforce its own laws even against big business interests."

Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell said: "These old coal-fired generating plants should be forced to live by the same rules as our power plants in Vermont. Acid rain has taken enough of a toll on our citizenry and on the plant and fish life in the Green Mountains and the Adirondacks. Cleaning up our air and water is a long-term project. We need to take significant steps now to prevent even greater harm to public health and the environment in the future -- cutting back on the protections contained in the Clean Air Act is 180 degrees in the wrong direction."

The attorneys general from many of the northeastern states are currently involved in federal lawsuits and settlements that target dozens of coal-burning power plants. In some of these lawsuits and settlements, the states were joined by the federal Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency, plus a number of environmental protection organizations. Any weakening of the Clean Air Act by the Bush administration would threaten to compromise the air quality improvements sought in the states’ current power plant cases.

Acid rain caused by power plant pollution has numerous prolonged and insidious impacts throughout the Northeast, including:

  • killing 23 percent of the lakes and ponds in the six-million acre Adirondack Mountain region of New York,
  • damaging New Hampshire’s lakes, forests and scenic vistas and injuring the state’s tourism industry and its forest products industry,
  • killing high-elevation red spruce forests in the Green Mountains of Vermont and harming the state’s maple sugar industry.
  • contributing significantly to the eutrophication of Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.

The Bush administration’s review of the current clean air cases, which is taking place after the states and the federal government filed lawsuits, is virtually unprecedented, and continues to delay this vital enforcement initiative.