By Mary Anne Hitt, Sierra Club
Scott Pruitt’s Environmental Protection Agency continues to take it easy on his fossil fuel friends – this time ignoring a request by Maryland to address smog pollution coming from 19 upwind coal plants. The pollution is coming from coal plants that have pollution controls, but get this – they aren’t using them because it costs less to pollute! And it’s not just Maryland bearing the brunt of the pollution – many states across the Eastern US are downwind and suffering from more dangerous, smoggy air as a result, including my home state of West Virginia. So health and environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, have just stepped in to try and make sure they don’t get away with it.
Last week, Maryland filed a lawsuit against the EPA over the agency’s failure to respond to the state’s petition showing that coal plants in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia were contributing to unsafe levels of smog in Maryland in violation of the Clean Air Act. The kicker — these 19 coal plants have pollution controls already installed, they’re just choosing to not run them because it saves money. Nevermind that for many of these plants the utilities previously made their customers pay tens of millions of dollars to install these pollution controls in the first place! Now downwind states are paying the price with their health.
Air pollution knows no state boundaries and downwind state residents are sick and tired of breathing the pollution of their upwind neighbors. For healthy individuals, exposure to low levels of ozone (also known as smog) can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, and throat irritation. Long and repeated exposure may permanently scar lung tissue. Ozone is also a potent asthma trigger. Parts of Maryland consistently experience numerous Code Orange air quality health alert days for smog each summer due in large part to the excessive upwind pollution blowing into the state (though Maryland could do more as well).
This week the Sierra Club took legal action against the EPA with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Adirondack Council, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility, Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Integrity Project, and the Maryland Environmental Health Network because of EPA’s failure to respond to Maryland’s petition and protect the environmental interests and health of their members.
As of now, with Scott Pruitt at the helm, coal plants are choosing to turn off their pollution controls and let downwind residents pay the price. But they can only continue to get away with it until the courts compel the EPA to address this dangerous pollution.
The EPA is supposed to protect the environment and public health, including the health of your family, which we can’t for granted anymore under Scott Pruitt’s leadership. The Sierra Club will hold them accountable, and we need your help – join us.