Tag Archives: sulfur dioxide

After four years, Wisconsin GOP forced to adopt air pollution standards

After four years of Republican defiance and a lawsuit, the state Department of Natural Resources is finally ready to adopt federal air pollution standards.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published new limits on fine particulate matter in January 2013. Wisconsin law requires the DNR to adopt rules matching EPA standards to ensure state permits meet federal requirements but the Republican-controlled agency didn’t do it.

Environmental groups Clean Wisconsin and the Midwest Environmental Defense Center sued in 2014 to force the agency to comply.

The groups and the DNR quietly settled the lawsuit last year with an agreement calling for the DNR to get rules reflecting the federal standards into state code by March 31, 2017. Agency officials have now drafted the regulations and the DNR board is expected to adopt them at a Dec. 14 meeting and forward them to Gov. Scott Walker. If he signs off and no lawmakers object, the rules would likely go into effect in late March.

“We’re glad to see DNR finally adding these health-based air quality protections to help address the many respiratory illnesses like asthma, bronchitis and emphysema that many Wisconsin residents face,” said Amber Meyer-Smith, Clean Wisconsin’s government relations director. “It’s unfortunate that the DNR needs to be compelled to add these protections, but we’re glad they’re complying with the settlement timelines.”

DNR officials said at the time the lawsuit was filed that they were working on drafting the rules but it was slow-going because the rule-making process requires the DNR to analyze the standards’ economic impact. Agency spokesman Andrew Savagian said this week that Walker authorized the DNR to begin work on the rule in June 2015. He had no immediate comment on why work didn’t start until the settlement was reached.

Fine particulate matter is a mix of small particles and liquid droplets made up of acids, organic chemicals, metals, soil or dust particles often found near roads, dusty industries or in smoke from forest fires or power plants. The particles can pass through the throat and nose and enter the lungs, causing health problems, according to the EPA. The federal rules revised the annual standard for the amount of particulate matter allowable in the air from 15 micrograms per cubic meter to 12 micrograms per cubic meter.

DNR officials wrote in a Nov. 7 memo to Secretary Cathy Stepp that all areas of the state are currently within the new standards. They solicited information about what effect adopting the federal standards would have on businesses and particulate matter sources from more than 1,600 stationary sources in Wisconsin and a half-dozen business associations, including Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group and a staunch Republican ally, and concluded the regulations would have little to no impact.

The 2015 settlement also required the DNR to adopt tighter restrictions the EPA set in 2010 for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. The DNR sent those rules to the Legislature in April 2015, shortly before the settlement was approved. They went into effect this August.

Savagian said that rule took so long because it was the first one the DNR’s air program implemented under the economic impact requirement.

Sulfur dioxide is a gas produced from fossil fuel combustion at power plants and other industrial facilities. The gas has been linked to a number of respiratory ailments, according to the EPA. Nitrogen oxide results from vehicle emissions and contributes to smog. It can cause airway inflammation and exacerbate problems for asthma suffers, the EPA has said.

It’s unclear how Donald Trump’s presidency and solid Republican control of Congress will affect the future of environmental regulations. Trump has vowed to get rid of all federal regulations, and the GOP already has shown a willingness to do the same.

 

Supreme Court upholds cross-state air pollution rule

The Supreme Court on April 29 upheld, by a 6-2 vote, the cross-state air pollution rule, described by some environmentalists as one of the most significant health standards ever adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

John Walke, director of the Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, responded: “This is great news for millions of people who suffer from serious health problems caused by the soot and smog-causing pollution from power plants in other states. Implementation of these long overdue protections will prevent thousands of premature deaths and save tens of billions of dollars a year in health costs. The EPA safeguards follow the simple principle that giant utility companies shouldn’t be allowed to dump their dirty emissions onto residents of downwind states. The Supreme Court wisely upheld this common-sense approach.”

The rule would prevent up to 34,000 premature deaths each year and provide up to $280 billion in health and environmental benefits by reducing pollution that crosses state lines.

The EPA finalized the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule in July 2011, requiring 28 states in the East, Midwest and South to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) that cross state lines and worsen air quality in downwind states.

In August 2012, a divided U.S. Court of Appeals panel voted 2-1 to throw out the rule. But in a 44-page dissent, Judge Judith Rogers said the two-judge majority ignored the law and court precedent and instead applied their “own notions of absurdity and logic that are unsupported by a factual record.”

The Supreme Court decision sides with Rogers’ dissent and reinstates the health standards.

Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen said, “The Supreme Court’s decision is welcome news to millions of Americans whose lungs are on the receiving end of badly polluted air. EPA’s 2011 power plant pollution rule is a vital public health protection that will each and every year prevent thousands of premature deaths, and hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and other illnesses. People who live downwind from this deadly pollution have the right to breathe air that doesn’t sicken and kill them. After years of delay, the time is long overdue for this urgently needed safeguard to be allowed to take effect.”