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Air pollution ruling a victory for N.H. but more work ahead

When it comes to air, not all states are equal.

Pollution emitted in one state can have a detrimental effect on the air quality in another. For New England, which is downwind from many of its neighbors, the flow of emissions into the region can increase ozone levels and threaten public health, officials said.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 6-2 ruling last week upholds the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate those emissions under its Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.

The rule requires states to reduce power plant emissions that can be transported across borders and contribute to other states’ ozone levels. Specifically, the regulation targets 28 states – from Texas to New York – to reduce those types of cross-state pollutants.

It’s good news for New Hampshire, said Craig Wright, director of the state’s Air Resources Division.

Currently, the state meets the 2008 ozone standard set at 75 parts per billion, said Jeffrey Underhill, chief scientist with the Air Resources Division. But during a few days in the summer, some areas of the state can see ozone levels that rise above the standard. During those bad air days, 90 to 99 percent of the ozone pollutants can come from out of state, Underhill said.

The biggest out-of-state contributors are Massachusetts and New York, Underhill said. But the emissions can come from as far away as Virginia, West Virginia or Ohio and include all of the states in between.

And even if a state is meeting the federal ozone standard within its own boundaries, Wright said, as the emissions are transported through the air, they can chemically react and become another pollutant.

“One of the unique things about air pollution is that it knows no political boundaries,” he said.

And that includes New Hampshire, whose emissions contribute to Maine’s ozone levels. So, it is important for the state to continue to decrease its own emissions, Wright said.

Over the past several years, air quality has improved in New Hampshire as the standards have also gotten more stringent.

But next year, officials are expecting the EPA to release revised ozone standards, and there is a possibility that parts of the state won’t meet the updated goals, Underhill said. “If that is the case, any progress we can make right now on reducing upwind emissions will improve our chances of not being in violation,” he added.

Progress made on that front will also help improve public health in the state. Air pollution can contribute to bronchitis and breathing difficulties, as well as heart disease, lost working days, and death, Underhill said in an email. “The cleaner we get our air, the lower the associated health expenses will likely be in our state,” he said.

New Hampshire lawmakers welcomed the high court’s decision.

“Without this rule in place, New Hampshire would be unable to achieve national clean air standards because of air pollution that is outside of the state’s regulatory control,” said U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte in a statement. While Gov. Maggie Hassan said in a statement that the ruling is a victory for the state and that “for too long, New Hampshire has borne the health, environmental and economic cost of pollution caused by other states.”

Last year, Hassan joined with several other governors from across the East Coast to call on upwind, Midwestern states to reduce their emissions.

Although the court’s ruling gets the ball rolling, it is probably not going to be the end-all, Wright said. The EPA’s rule sets the cross-state emission goals at 1997 air quality standards. In the years since, those levels have been updated and may be revised again within the next year, Wright said.

“There needs to be more work, but we are definitely going in the right direction,” he said.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at amorris@cmonitor.com.)

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