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Environmentalists Sue Hogan Over Blocked Clean Air Rules

Smoke stack at Morgantown Generating Station.
Chesapeake Bay Program via flickr
Smoke stack at Morgantown Generating Station.

Two environmental organizations are suingGov. Larry Hogan for blocking proposed clean air regulations on his first day in office. The Sierra Club and Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility argue that the governor lacked the authority to pull back the rules aimed at reducing nitrogen oxides that are key ingredients in ozone.

Just before leaving office, the Maryland Department of the Environment under then-Gov. Martin O’Malley approved smog-combatting regulations that would have required coal-fired power plants to run pollution controls throughout the summer ozone season and forced upgrades to pollution control technology in older facilities.

When Larry Hogan became governor, he blocked the rules from being printed in the Maryland Register, the last step before a regulation goes into effect. Lawyers for the environmental groups say the rules were already approved, and so the rules should be printed and implemented.

“By blocking these critical public health protections, Gov. Hogan acted contrary to both public opinion and the law,” said Michael Soules from the environmental law firm EarthJustice, which filed the lawsuit. “The law is clear: once these safeguards were adopted, they were official and the new Governor could not lawfully block them.” 

The Hogan administration has implemented emergency regulations of its own that require continuous pollution control at coal-fired power plants throughout the ozone season. A permanent version of that rule is being finalized now. But the administration is not requiring expensive updates to old pollution control technology that the earlier proposal would have required. The department of the environment plans to proffer more complete regulations this fall.

“We are absolutely committed to winning the battle on smog and doing it in the smartest and fairest way possible," said MDE Secretary Ben Grumbles. Grumbles, through a spokesman, pledged that his department will come up with regulations that will achieve emissions "equal to or greater" than the regulations Hogan nixed upon entering office. “We are working closely with our federal, state and local partners. We encourage any party interested in the public health benefits of clean air to work together with us on these longer-term pollution reductions," he said.

Central Maryland sees more high ozone days than most of the country. Ozone is known to make asthma symptoms worse and increase sensitivity to asthma triggers. It also exacerbates heart problems.

“We’re going to hold the governor accountable in court, because no one should have to breathe dirty air when the solutions already exist” said Maryland Sierra Club Director Josh Tulkin.  “For the sake of our health, these dirty plants need to install state-of-the-art pollution controls, repower to cleaner fuel, or retire by the end of the decade.”

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Christopher Connelly is a political reporter for WYPR, covering the day-to-day movement and machinations in Annapolis. He comes to WYPR from NPR, where he was a Joan B. Kroc Fellow, produced for weekend All Things Considered and worked as a rundown editor for All Things Considered. Chris has a master’s degree in journalism from UC Berkeley. He’s reported for KALW (San Francisco), KUSP (Santa Cruz, Calif.) and KJZZ (Phoenix), and worked at StoryCorps in Brooklyn, N.Y. He’s filed stories on a range of topics, from a shortage of dog blood in canine blood banks to heroin addicts in Tanzania. He got his start in public radio at WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, when he was a student at Antioch College.