Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
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Share clean-air burden

Sometimes change comes from outside. So it’s welcome news that states downwind of us are pushing Ohio to clean up its air.

Governors of eight Northeast states are petitioning the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to force nine other states, including Ohio and Michigan, to reduce emissions from coal-powered plants, factories, and tailpipes.

The downwind states say they have spent more than 15 years installing scrubbers in smokestacks and requiring vehicle emissions tests to meet EPA standards, only to find that winds bring them dirty air from areas with more-lenient rules. Their push for enforcement of the “good neighbor” part of the Clean Air Act comes as Ohio, 13 other states, and the coal industry are challenging that measure in the Supreme Court.

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When the clean-air law passed in 1990, Ohio got a reprieve from being part of the “ozone transport region,” which the Northeast states belong to and want Ohio and the other upwind states to join. The EPA argues that stricter regulation of ozone pollution will help prevent thousands of premature deaths, nonfatal heart attacks, acute respiratory problems, and emergency-room visits.

Bob Hodanbosi, chief of the air pollution control division of the Ohio EPA, says that if Ohio became part of the ozone region, it would have to begin vehicle inspections in all urban areas of more than 100,000 people, including Toledo. Such inspections are required in the Cleveland area.

Toledo’s Jeep plant also would face modifications, Mr. Hodanbosi adds, and more-expensive reformulated gasoline might be required in Ohio’s urban areas.

Air pollution in Ohio has declined dramatically since the early 1970s; lead levels are down by 95 percent and nitrogen dioxide by 80 percent. Yet ozone has dropped by just 19 percent, Mr. Hodanbosi says, because all Ohioans contribute to it when they drive a car, heat their home, or paint their house, for instance.

The state continues to make progress on meeting stricter EPA standards, Mr. Hodanbosi adds. By 2015, he says, about a dozen coal-fired power plants will have closed and the state will have lost a third of its coal-fired generation capacity.

Coal-fired plants once provided 90 percent of the electricity generated in Ohio. Today, it’s about 75 to 80 percent, the Ohio EPA estimates. All remaining coal plants in the state will soon have scrubbers.

All this is commendable. But Ohio has had a 23-year reprieve from the tougher ozone-region standards. It’s past time for the state to balance economic realities with public-health concerns, and set a timeline for compliance.

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