The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday proposed new anti-smog targets for the states that aim, in large part, to stop the spread of pollution from the Midwest to the East.
"Upstate New York is a great example of an area that should benefit" without having to impose new pollution controls of its own, EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner said during a meeting with reporters.
The state-by-state anti-smog targets aim to reduce pollution in 22 states, including New York. But the Eastern states stand to meet those targets without additional actions of their own, Ms. Browner said, since they will benefit from the much deeper smog cutbacks in Indiana, Ohio and other Midwestern states.
The anti-smog targets are the EPA's first-ever attempt to control pollution that drifts from one part of the country to another. Currently, much of upstate New York's smog results from coal-fired power plants in the Midwest, which Ms. Browner said are likely to be forced to clean up their act under the new targets.
The targets, which are expected to be finalized next fall after a yearlong public comment period, seek to force New York to cut its level of smog-causing nitrogen oxide by 19 percent beyond current requirements by the end of 2004.
John P. Cahill, commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, said the state will meet that target without any additional actions for two reasons: its previous efforts to curb smog and the new reductions for Midwestern states that have been more lax on such matters.
"The fact that we only have to cut ozone by 19 percent clearly shows what a great job we've done already," Cahill said, adding that Gov. Pataki is pleased that the EPA action will force states with dirtier air to clean it up before it drifts New York's way.
Ohio, for example, will have to cut its emissions of smog-causing nitrogen oxide by 43 percent by the end of 2004 and must have the technology in place to reduce those emissions by 2002. Michigan and Pennsylvania, meanwhile, are facing 32 percent cuts.
While New York State law forced utilities to install air-cleaning technology at coal-fired plants in the mid-1980s, resulting in higher electricity rates in the state, utilities in those Midwestern states were never forced to do so.
Ms. Browner said those states are likely to force their utilities to reduce their emissions because that will be the cheapest way of meeting the smog-reduction targets.
She said the smog-reduction strategy, developed with the cooperation of 37 states, fits in neatly with the new clean air health standards that her agency announced in July.
For example, while Niagara County would be in violation of those new health standards for smog, which are set to be phased in during the next decade, the reduction targets announced Friday for the Midwest should solve Niagara County's potential problem at no cost to local government or taxpayers.
"There will be fewer asthma attacks when these targets are met," she said. "There will be less crop damage due to smog."
Cahill said that despite Friday's action, the DEC will continue to pursue a petition it filed with the EPA in the summer, asking the agency to force new pollution controls on Midwestern and Southeastern states by 2002. That's two years sooner than the targets announced Friday.
Several other Northeastern states have filed similar petitions with the EPA, saying the federal Clean Air Act calls on the EPA to control downwind pollution in a more timely manner.