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Rhode Island joins effort to Curb Air Pollution from Upwind States

Eight downwind states file petition to require action

Governor Lincoln D. Chafee announced today that Rhode Island is one of eight northeast and mid-Atlantic states petitioning the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to require upwind states to reduce air pollution generated within their borders.

The multi-state action is directed at Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia to reduce air pollution emissions that are carried by prevailing winds and contribute to the formation of ozone to the north and east. The petition seeks long overdue commitments from the upwind states to protect the health of downwind residents and to level the playing field for businesses.

"Our goal is to eliminate Ozone Alert Days in Rhode Island. Despite aggressive state and regional efforts to reduce ozone causing emissions within our borders, Rhode Islanders still face bad air days each and every summer because of air pollutants from upwind states," Governor Chafee said. "Stronger controls, including the expansion of the Ozone Transport Region, are needed to level the playing field and improve air quality in downwind states such as Rhode Island."

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 petition asks the EPA to require the nine upwind states to join them 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 the downwind states through use of readily available control technologies and reliance on cleaner fuels to generate power.

States filing the petition – all current members of the OTR – are: Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Under Section 176A of the federal Clean Air Act, states can petition the EPA to add any state to an air quality region such as the OTR if there is reason to believe it is the source of pollution causing violations of air quality standards elsewhere. The EPA Administrator is required to approve or disapprove of such a petition within 18 months.

"Emissions from power plants and factories in upwind states have a dramatic impact on ozone levels in Rhode Island's air. Rhode Island experienced unhealthy levels of ozone on 24 days during the past three summers, and this presented significant health concerns for Rhode Island residents, particularly children, the elderly and those with asthma and other respiratory conditions," noted Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit. "According to an EPA analysis, more than 80 percent of elevated ozone levels in Rhode Island air are caused by pollutants that are emitted in upwind states and carried into our state by prevailing winds. Rhode Island, like the other states in the Ozone Transport Region, has already taken extensive steps to reduce air pollution. Those measures have resulted in significant expenditures by Rhode Island industry and increased energy costs in the state. Upwind states have not been required to implement those measures. It's time for the upwind states to follow the same emissions reduction rules in order to improve air quality in Rhode Island and other downwind states and to eliminate the current inequitable economic burden to industry, energy producers and consumers in states in the Ozone Transport Region."

In submitting the petition to EPA, the eight downwind states told EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, "We believe expansion of the transport region and implementation of the required controls in upwind states are necessary for all of the OTR to achieve attainment in a timely manner. We also believe that the consultation process that is such an important part of the OTC's activities can benefit all states in an expanded OTR in the assessment of the ozone transport problem and result in the development of effective solutions."

The millions of residents in the downwind states who petitioned EPA are exposed to unhealthy levels of ozone, which can irritate the respiratory system, causing coughing, throat irritation and chest pains and aggravating asthma and other chronic lung diseases. Ozone and other air pollutants have also been linked to premature death.

Despite aggressive actions taken by downwind states to reduce air pollution generated in-state, EPA modeling shows that interstate transport of air pollution contributes significantly to violations of health-based air quality standards for ground-level ozone within their borders. As much as 70 to 98 percent of this ozone air pollution problem is blown in from upwind states – and parts of some downwind states would remain in violation of federal standards even if they eliminated all of the pollution generated within their borders.

Industries and electric power plants in downwind states have invested heavily in pollution control technologies and additional emissions reductions would come from smaller sources at greater cost. The cost of removing an additional ton of pollution in downwind states is estimated at between $10,000 to $40,000 – compared to as little as $500 a ton in upwind states, where even some basic control technologies have not been installed.

Ground level or "bad" ozone is created when two types of air pollutants – nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) – react in the presence of sunlight and warm temperatures. These air pollutants are generated from industrial facilities, electric power plants, motor vehicle exhaust, and gasoline vapors. Air pollution from upwind states is transported into the Ozone Transport Region on prevailing westerly winds from the Ohio River Valley and from the southwest along the Interstate-95 urban corridor from Washington D.C.

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For more information contact, Gail Mastrati at gail.mastrati@DEM.RI.GOV or 401-222-4700 ext. 2402.

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