“They’re getting away with murder”: East Coast takes Midwest to task over air pollution

The governors of eight Northeastern states petitioned the EPA to crack down on coal burning in the Midwest

Topics: Air pollution, Coal, EPA, Supreme Court, midwest, East Coast, , ,

Air pollution doesn’t respect borders. And the way it travels across the U.S. certainly can’t be called “fair.” As a general pattern, wind blows west to east, so that as fresh air blows into the Midwest from the Mountain West, the Midwest’s own coal-laden air is dumped on the Northeast.

Unable to control the wind, the governors of eight Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states petitioned the EPA Monday to crack down on Midwestern power plant emissions. The move comes a day before the Supreme Court is set to hear appeals concerning the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, legislation that would force states to reign in coal pollution that crosses state lines. Above and beyond that decision, the petition calls for nine states — Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia — to further regulate their emissions.

All of the governors who signed the petition — representing Delaware, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont – are Democrats (the signature of New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a Republican, was conspicuously absent). To Republicans and the coal industry, it represents yet another attack in the ongoing “war on coal.” According to EPA estimates, its rule, if upheld by the Supreme Court, would cost about $800 million to implement, with the burden mainly falling on Rust Belt states that get the majority of their electricity  from coal.

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But to East Coast governors, the real war is being waged on the health of their constituents. The New York Times reports:

Like the petition from the Northeastern governors, the court case reflects the growing anger of East Coast officials against the Appalachian states that mine coal and the Rust Belt states that burn it to fuel their power plants and factories. Coal emissions are the chief cause of global warming and are linked to many health risks, including asthma and lung disease.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut, who is leading the effort by East Coast governors to crack down on out-of-state pollution, called it a “front-burner issue” for his administration.

“I care about this because it’s put Connecticut at an economic disadvantage,” Mr. Malloy said in an interview. “We’re paying a lot of money to remove these compounds from the air. That money is reflected in higher energy costs. We’re more than willing to pay that, but the states we’re petitioning should have to follow the same rules.”

Mr. Malloy said that more than half the pollution in Connecticut was from outside the state and that it was lowering the life expectancy of Connecticut residents with heart disease or asthma. “They’re getting away with murder,” Mr. Malloy said of the Rust Belt and Appalachia. “Only it’s in our state, not theirs.”

Lindsay Abrams
Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

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