Maryland to sue EPA over Pennsylvania coal-fired plant pollution

The State of Maryland says it intends to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its administrator, Scott Pruitt, over smog-inducing pollution drifting across its borders from neighboring states, including Pennsylvania.

The notice, filed Thursday by the Maryland Department of the Environment, says the EPA is failing to do its job under the Clean Air Act. It singles out 36 power plants in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia as failing to use pollution control equipment and emitting nitrogen oxides.

Nitrogen oxides combine with volatile organic compounds in sunlight to create ground level ozone, or smog.

Maryland says it will file suit because the EPA has failed to act after it sent a petition to the agency in November 2016 stating it can’t meet its own ozone reduction goals because of the upwind plants.

“To date, the EPA has not taken action” before the July 15 deadline, the notice of Maryland’s intent to sue reads.

Maryland notes that it’s not asking the EPA to take extra measures and that the power plants should not bear extra costs. It simply wants the plants to start using their own pollution controls to manufacturers’ specifications on days when ozone reductions are needed — typically during heat waves.

The petition, filed under the “good neighbor” provision of the Clean Air Act, named coal-fired plants that are “clearly not running controls effectively.” It names six Pennsylvania plants.

It says that on some bad ozone days, more than 300 tons of nitrogen oxides are being released that could have been contained if the plants “had simply run their control technologies efficiently.”

“These days are often the same days where ozone levels are likely to be highest because of hot, ozone-conducive weather,” the petition says.

An EPA spokesman said the agency “does not comment on potential litigation.”

The Environmental Defense Fund lauds the notice to sue, said Vickie Patton, a lawyer for the group.

“We stand with Maryland in opposing Scott Pruitt’s lawlessness, and we plan to take action to ensure he carries out his bedrock responsibilities under our nation’s clean-air laws,” Patton said in an email.