On a Code Orange air quality day — when children, the elderly and people with asthma, heart disease or lung disease should minimize outdoor activity — Maryland announced its intent to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
For the past eight months, the Maryland Department of the Environment has waited for the EPA to rule on a Clean Air Act petition. The petition asks the federal agency to require five states upwind of Maryland to continuously run existing pollution controls at power plants during the ozone season from May 1 to Oct. 31.
Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles notified the federal agency by certified mail on Thursday that the state intends to sue the EPA and Administrator Scott Pruitt for their failure to act on the petition.
Less than two hours later, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation announced its support and that it plans to submit a similar notice of intent to sue.
“Maryland power companies have taken responsibility for proper pollution controls at their [power] plants, and air quality has improved significantly in the state in the past 10 years. Now upwind power plants in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia need to put human health above profits,” Jon Mueller, vice president of litigation for the foundation, said in an emailed statement.
The EPA had 60 days after Maryland filed the petition on Nov. 16, 2016, to hold a public hearing and make a finding or deny the petition. The EPA issued a six-month extension on Jan. 3, which expired Saturday, The Frederick News-Post previously reported.
No action was taken on Maryland’s petition during the six-month extension and no public hearing was scheduled or held, according to the letter.
“Consequently, the State of Maryland is writing to provide notice that it intends to file suit against the Administrator and the EPA for failing to timely perform a nondiscretionary duty under the Clean Air Act to act on Maryland’s petition,” the letter states.
Maryland’s petition asks the EPA to require 36 coal-fired electric generating units — including 19 power plants — in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to run existing control equipment to reduce the amount of nitrogen oxides released into the air, which travels to Maryland.
Nitrogen oxides are one of the precursors of ground-level ozone, known as smog, that can irritate people’s respiratory and circulatory systems.
“Today’s unhealthy air in Maryland underscores the need for federal action,” Mueller said.
Sections of Maryland are in non-attainment of National Ambient Air Quality Standards, because of pollution that is transported across state lines. New, more stringent standards for ground-level ozone also took effect this year.
Unless the EPA takes action, the state said in the letter it intends to file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.
“Protecting Maryland’s air quality will always be a priority of this administration, and we will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that other states and the federal government are meeting their responsibilities,” Amelia Chassé, deputy communications director in Gov. Larry Hogan’s office, wrote in an emailed statement.