State petitions under section 126 of the Clean Air Act attempting to force the Environmental Protection Agency to ratchet down on NOx emissions from the Midwest and South have more to do with regional politics than science, according to documents obtained by the Midwest Ozone Group. MOG used the Freedom of Information Act to get letters and memos that indicate EPA encouraged the New England states to file the section 126 petitions blaming Midwest states for ozone pollution.
The most telling document is a memo from Edward O. Sullivan, commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, to Maine Gov. Angus King. In the July 31, 1997 memo, Sullivan reminds King that the petition "is the famous action which you threatened in 1995, putting the USEPA on notice that we are concerned about transport and would take action if they failed to act unilaterally. We held off on `lighting the fuse' at the time, anticipating that [the Ozone Transport Assessment Group] would generate the scientific basis and some political support for the USEPA to act."
But OTAG's modeling was not the scientific slam dunk the Northeast expected. OTAG found that there is ozone transport, but that it tends to be short-range, and not a major contributor to ozone non-attainment in the Northeast. In his memo to King, Sullivan acknowledged, "Auto and utility emissions from Massachusetts and New Hampshire have the greatest impact on Maine air quality, while New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are the states most heavily impacted by the Ohio River Valley."
But Sullivan advised King to move forward on the section 126 petition, on political grounds. "You would follow through on a threat you made two years ago," he wrote, adding, "USEPA has informally indicated it would welcome the 126 action at this time to give them political cover to resist the Midwestern contingent which will want to minimize the additional controls they will face." Sullivan, sensitive to local impacts, told King that seeking more stringent controls only on utilities would not hurt at home. "[Central Maine Power's] Wayman station would be the only facility affected by such standards," he said. "Conversion of the facility to natural gas would bring it into compliance."
The push for strict upwind controls, says David M. Flannery, MOG counsel, came because the Northeast states were unwilling to clamp down on emissions from cars. "The Northeast states haven't done everything they can," he charges. "They've just done what they are willing to do. They have stopped short of taking the politically unpopular step of addressing automobile emissions. Instead, they `have been conspiring on a plan,' as Maine's environmental commissioner put it in a memo to his state's governor, to find some way--any way--to shift responsibility and costs onto someone else."
Inset: AEP: EPA Role `Disheartening'
The documents the Midwest Ozone Group obtained from Northeast states on their petition last year attempting to get the Environmental Protection Agency to restrict emissions in the Midwest are "disheartening," says Dale Heydlauff, American Electric Power's environment chief. "Although we suspected as much," says Heydlauff, "it was disheartening to read in black and white that the entire section 126 imbroglio last fall was instigated by EPA as a political cover against the Midwest."
The Midwest, said Heylauff of the giant utility based in Columbus, Ohio, "is not the source of the Northeast's smog problems, and the Northeast states--and EPA--know it. The documents paint an ugly portrait, confirming our contentions that the EPA has colluded with the states in a disingenuous scheme to shift blame and an economic burden to the Midwest.
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