Politicians, business people and taxpayers in other states don’t like to hear it, but the fact is that coal-burning power plants upwind of New York create hardships here and around the Northeast. That is why the governors of eight Northeastern states plan to ask the Environmental Protection Agency to tighten air pollution rules on nine Rust Belt and Appalachian states.
It’s a fair request. New York is already subject to stricter air pollution regulations than many other parts of the country. With them, New York has taken on the problems posed by tailpipe exhaust and smokestacks. That has raised costs here and reduced pollution, but still leaves New Yorkers exposed to the pollution emitted in upwind states that haven’t taken those steps. They enjoy lower costs for energy and send the air they pollute to the Northeast.
New York has dealt with issues such as these for decades. Not that long ago, Northeastern waterways were dying from the acid rain produced by sulfur and nitrogen pollution, mainly originating from areas west. Many lakes in the Adirondack Mountains were all but dead. Whole forests were dying. With collaboration and government action, the problem has eased significantly. Lakes that a decade ago could not support life are once again teeming with fish. The problem, if not solved, is on its way there.
The lesson is that this can be done. The matter is urgent for the states that have requested the EPA to act, and also to New Jersey, which didn’t. It is of less obvious interest to the pollution-producing states, including Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky. Because much of that pollution is caused by burning coal, the problem also affects coal-producing states such as West Virginia.
Yet, some of the pollution falls on their states, as it does in the Northeast, helping to cause serious health risks, including asthma and lung disease. In any case, those states cannot be held harmless simply because their residents suffer less than those of states to which they export the pollution they create.
This issue has arisen just as the Supreme Court was hearing arguments on a related EPA regulation known as the “good neighbor” rule, which would force states with coal pollution that crosses state lines to install pollution control technology or close the plants.
The states targeted complain that, among other things, the rule places an unfair economic burden on them. There is a burden, no doubt, but it is patently fair. What is unfair is the economic burden placed on New York and other states that are forced to cope with the consequences of other states’ reliance on a fuel known to cause health problems.
However the court rules on that matter, the Northeastern states are looking for greater relief than that rule provides.
It is time to move ahead on this. Natural gas prices are historically low. Whether coal-producing states acknowledge it or not, that fuel’s days are numbered. The Northeast needs relief and the other states need to plan for a cleaner future.