COMMENTARY: Support DNREC’s efforts to regulate upwind power plants

Monday was an official Code Orange bad air day in Delaware. Bad air days occur often in Delaware, for example June 30, July 2 and July 9. Tuesday may also be an official bad air day.

A Code Orange bad air day for ozone is also likely to be at least a Code Yellow bad air day for particulates. Frequently the combination of ozone, particles, heat, humidity and allergens (pollen) make Delaware very unhealthy.

Here’s what the DNREC has to say:

“Ozone levels have risen quickly over the weekend and weather conditions will be conducive on Monday for further formation of ozone due to full sun all day with light winds. Highest concentrations are expected in New Castle County. Similar conditions are expected for Tuesday as well.

Code Orange levels are unhealthy for sensitive groups.”

Knowing that Delaware has struggled with bad air for decades, people might think the “air” shop of DNREC is incompetent. This is not so. In our experience, Delaware’s air regulators are generally more competent and motivated than other parts of the department. Much of the credit for this goes to Ali Mirzakhalili, who former DNREC Secretary John Hughes once described as “my environmental attack dog.” This spring Ali resigned from DNREC to take over the Oregon air program. This is most likely Delaware’s loss and Oregon’s gain, but we don’t lack confidence in Division of Air Quality Acting Director Dave Fees.

Delaware’s air quality problems are hard to solve. One can point to the inactivity of the Delaware Division of Public Health, politicians siding with polluters, and stupid and harmful actions such as the reopening of the Delaware City Refinery. But, much of the problem is Delaware’s position downwind of the rest of the country, such that pollutants blow into the state on prevailing winds, from sources outside of the state’s control.

For some time, Delaware has been pushing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate upwind power plants that are contributing to high ozone levels in Delaware. It’s hard at the best of times to prod the EPA into action, and with the agency under the control of crooks and polluter lobbyists appointed by Trump, nobody should be surprised that EPA is denying Delaware’s petitions.

“EPA is proposing to deny five petitions submitted under section 126 of the Clean Air Act. The state of Delaware submitted four of these petitions. Maryland submitted one. These petitions sought reductions in emissions of ozone-forming nitrogen dioxide (NOx) from specific power plants in the upwind states of Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. The agency has concluded that neither Delaware nor Maryland has met their burden to demonstrate that the sources they named emit or would emit ozone-forming pollutants at levels that violate the Clean Air Act’s good neighbor provision for the 2008 and 2015 ozone standards. In addition, EPA’s independent analysis, does not show a violation of the good neighbor provision of the Clean Air Act,” according to an EPA “act sheet.

DNREC Secretary Shawn M. Garvin has scheduled a July 16 public meeting at Delaware Technical Community College’s Stanton Campus at 10 a.m. in response to EPA’s refusal to provide a more convenient venue to Delawareans for voicing their opinion of EPA’s proposed denial of the CAA petitions, and also on account of EPA’s sharply limiting the public comment period for the agency’s proposed actions.

EPA held a public hearing in Washington, D.C., June 22 — only 15 days after the agency announced it would deny Delaware’s Clean Air Act petitions — failing to act on both Secretary Garvin’s requests for not less than 45 days for public comment and a later date for EPA’s hearing to be held in Delaware.

“We are holding this meeting to provide an opportunity for the public to comment about the transmission of air pollution from out of state into Delaware,” Secretary Garvin said. “The department has pursued — and will continue to pursue — voluntary and collaborative efforts with partner states to ensure upwind power plants meet the same stringent standards Delaware is required to meet. All Delawareans would agree that it is now time for EPA to hold upwind sources accountable for ozone emissions that are impacting downwind states.”

More information about the meeting can be found on the Delaware Public Meeting Calendar at https://publicmeetings.delaware.gov/Meeting/60043. Comments from the public meeting will be submitted to EPA in the form of a transcript on behalf of all who speak on the proposed denial of the CAA petitions, to EPA’s federal docket (EPA-HQ-OAR-2018-0295).

Members of the public interested in speaking at the meeting are asked to sign up by Thursday by sending an email to Valerie.Gray@state.de.us of the Division of Air Quality. Written comments about the EPA’s proposed denial of the 126(b) petitions also can be submitted to Ms. Gray via email through Friday.

Green Delaware frequently disagrees with DNREC, but when the agency tries to do its job, public support makes sense.

Alan Muller, of Port Penn, is executive director of Green Delaware, a community-based organization working on environment, public health and democracy/open government issues.

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