Tristate ordered to clean air

Friday, September 25, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Tristate residents will get cleaner air and higher electricity bills under an anti-smog order issued Thursday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The agency told 22 states in the eastern half of the country, including Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky, to reduce nitrogen oxides (NOx), which Northeast states blame for their smog problems.

EPA Administrator Carol Browner called Thursday's order "the centerpiece" of her efforts to curtail smog. "Thousands of cases of smog-related illnesses, like bronchitis and exacerbated cases of childhood asthma, will help be prevented each year," she said.

Ohio and Indiana must each cut 36 percent of their summer NOx pollution; Kentucky must cut 33 percent. NOx is a key component of summer smog; ozone is the breath-taking ingredient.

Coal-fired power stations will bear the brunt of reductions. Costly controls must be in place by 2003 unless legal or engineering challenges force delays.

The EPA predicted that typical residential electricity bills would rise $1 a month across the 22 states.

Costs will be higher in the Ohio Valley, where so much NOx is generated, said William Tyndall, Cinergy vice president for environmental services. But no one had run the EPA's numbers through Cinergy's rate base to come up with a local cost estimate, he said.

The additional dollars will help states meet the new, stringent national ozone limit by the 2010 deadline. The EPA also said the cuts will reduce health-care costs related to breathing problems.

Hamilton County health department's Dr. Dan D. Petersen would not put a dollar value on projected health benefits, but his research suggested possibilities. He said Cincinnati public clinics see an 85 percent increase in respiratory complaints when ozone reaches half of the federal smog limit.

Whether the NOx cuts help New Englanders reduce their smog is a matter of dispute; that it will reduce ozone closer to home is far likelier.

Not surprisingly, cheers and boos met the EPA's long-expected announcement.

Jennifer Tisone Price of the American Lung Association in Ohio said NOx cuts will give at least one million Ohioans with lung problems "a chance to breathe easier."

Overkill was the way Bob Hodanbosi, chief of the air pollution control division at the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, saw it. "We are disappointed that they did not accept the alternatives that were proposed by Ohio and other states."

Ohio proposed a 65 percent NOx reduction and a few more years to achieve it as part of its plan to meet new ozone limits.

Thursday's NOx attack was no shock.

Mr. Tyndall called it a "political victory" for Northeast governors whose regulators are loathe to impose emissions controls on the real problem: autos.

Under the EPA's plan, Northeast utilities -- which rely less on coal and have made what the EPA said were significant reductions -- will make more modest NOx reductions.

Mr. Tyndall said this shifts NOx control costs upwind even though long-range pollution is a minimal problem.

Cinergy and its allies also have argued that Northeast states sought tough NOx controls to raise upwind states' energy costs. This, they argued, would reduce the competitive advantage that comes with comparatively low energy costs when attracting and holding jobs.

Mr. Tyndall said the EPA's plan had other flaws:

  • States have a year to submit NOx control plans to the EPA, and the EPA has a year to approve them. That could leave utilities three years to buy and install NOx controls.

    "We basically have the engineering people telling us it's not feasible."

  • Reduced ozone is not assured, because abundant volatile organic compounds -- the other key ingredient in smog -- and not NOx is the problem.

    The EPA promised states "maximum flexibility" in pursuing NOx cuts, but power plants are the likeliest target because NOx reduction is cheaper there: $1,500 per ton compared with $10,000 per ton if cars, small businesses, factories and small industrial boilers were regulated.

    The EPA also said it would establish a NOx trading system to reduce compliance costs.

    The EPA cited a two-year study by the states that called for NOx cuts from power plants and concluded that pollution from the Midwest and Ohio Valley plants adversely affected New England air quality. Such long-range, interstate flow of air pollution has been the subject of conflict between Midwest and Northeast states for years.

    The new requirements apply to the District of Columbia and 22 states: Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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