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Clock Ticking for Bad-Air Lawsuit in Maryland

Pennsylvania is one of the states accused of sending polluted air into Maryland. (usgs.gov)
Pennsylvania is one of the states accused of sending polluted air into Maryland. (usgs.gov)
July 31, 2017

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- The clock is now ticking in Maryland as regulators wait out the required 60 days before filing a lawsuit against the federal government over polluted air coming in from other states.

Last week, Maryland's Secretary of the Environment notified Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt of the potential legal action. Vickie Patton, general counsel with the Environmental Defense Fund, said coal-fired power plants from other states are discharging dangerous air pollution that travels into Maryland.

That's frustrating, Patton said, because Maryland has taken steps to clean up its own air. She said the EPA has failed to address Maryland's request to crack down on upwind air pollution, so the state has no other option but to go to court to force Pruitt's hand.

"It's EPA's Scott Pruitt's fundamental responsibility to act here,” Patton said. "The nation's clean air laws put those responsibilities squarely on his shoulders. He's dragging his feet, he hasn't acted."

The 2016 petition claims that power plants in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia are emitting nitrogen oxide at levels that violate a “good neighbor provision" in U.S. clean air law.

Patton said because the EPA hasn't acted, Maryland can't meet federal air quality standards.

"The EPA step in and ensure that those coal plants do their fair share to protect breathers downwind,” she explained. "Unfortunately, the EPA is not doing its job, and Maryland is suffering. "

Congress anticipated that bad air from some states would pollute others and enacted “good neighbor" protections. Patton said there's an interesting twist to the story when it comes to who was the first to invoke the law.

"(It) was a gentleman named Mitch McConnell, who is now the majority leader in the Senate and at the time was the county administrator in Jefferson County, Ky., that was suffering from upwind smokestack pollution,” she said.

Patton said coal plants have pollution-control measures in place but aren't using them.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MD