September 17, 2007

Ontario urges EPA to tighten U.S. ozone standards

For the second time in a month, the Ontario government has submitted comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The latest submission asks the Agency to consider the environment and human health first when revising national ozone standards.

The EPA is proposing a national standard for ozone in the range of 70 to 75 parts per billion (ppb), down from the current U.S. standard of 80 ppb. By comparison, the current Canada-Wide Standard for ozone is 65 ppb.

Ontario's position is in line with the EPA's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee's recommendation to lower the U.S. primary standard for ozone and encourages the EPA to adopt a standard comparable to the Canada-Wide Standard for ozone.

Ozone in the upper atmosphere serves to block harmful ultraviolet radiation. At ground level, however, ozone is a prime component of smog. In 2005, Ontario had its worst year on record for smog advisories, issuing 15 advisories covering a total of 53 days. So far this year the province has issued 36 days of smog advisories.

More than half of certain types of air pollution in Ontario comes from U.S. sources, notably the electricity production sector. At some Ontario locations, including Sarnia and Windsor, transboundary air pollution accounts for more than 90% of smog-causing compounds, including ozone. A June 2005 provincial study, Transboundary Air Pollution in Ontario, showed that air pollution causes nearly $10 billion in total damages to Ontario, including $6.6 billion in health costs.

Adverse health effects of ground-level ozone include inflammation in the lungs at low concentrations; it can severely aggravate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and pneumonia in healthy people. Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to these impacts. Ozone also causes severe environmental impacts by affecting photosynthesis and respiration in trees and plants that reduces growth rates and affects reproduction.

"Ground-level ozone is a serious threat to human health and environment in this province and throughout North America," said Environment Minister Laurel Broten. "The province of Ontario wants the EPA to consider the environment and the health and well-being of both Canadian and U.S. citizens when they issue the new standard for ozone."

"As a major component of smog, ozone affects everyone and is a significant contributor to respiratory ailments in Ontario," said Dr George Pasut, acting chief medical officer of health for Ontario. "I hope the United States Environmental Protection Agency will take this into account when they set the new standards for this pollutant."

Last month, Environment Minister Broten and provincial Attorney General Michael Bryant filed comments with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) detailing the Ontario government's concerns regarding the EPA's proposed supplemental rule that would permit higher emissions from large coal-fired power plants.

This is the second time Ontario has filed comments with the EPA about the New Source Review (NSR) rules. In February 2006, the province submitted comments outlining concerns with previous proposed changes to the NSR program. Then in May 2006, the province of Ontario participated as an amicus curiae in the Seventh Circuit Court during the U.S. vs Cinergy proceedings. At that time the court agreed with the government's position in the case against six Indiana and Ohio coal plants.

The supplemental rule proposed by the EPA in May would revise the NSR program to allow coal-burning power plants to operate for longer hours and would ease emissions regulations for many coal-fired plants, including those in the midwestern states upwind of Ontario. This, say Broten and Bryant, would lead to an increase in the amount of air pollution coming from the U.S. and lead to increased smog problems in the province.

The Ontario submission reinforces the government's view presented in the February 2006 comments and provides new information to support this position. There are, it states, more than 600 coal-fired power plants situated near the U.S.-Ontario border and these emit more than six million tons of pollutants into this airshed annually. The first part of the comments detail the latest findings concerning the health and environmental impacts of these emissions.

Part II of the submission discusses Ontario's action to reduce its own emissions and the results achieved to date through the province's clean air program.

The third part of the comments addresses the impacts of the EPA's proposed changes to the NSR program. Relaxation of the NSR would mean that utilities could make substantial modifications to electrical generation units to increase their capacity or to run for significantly longer periods each day without triggering NSR control requirements, provided hourly emission rates did not rise. As a result, says the submission, overall U.S. emissions could increase substantially without imposing any new emission control obligations on plant operators. In addition, adds the province, the proposal clearly contradicts the court decisions handed down in both the Cinergy case and the Duke Energy case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld NSR enforcement proceedings against 30 coal-fired power plants operated by Duke Energy.

The full text of the government's comments to the EPA, as well as the 2005 Transboundary Air Pollution in Ontario report and other transboundary air materials may be viewed on-line at www.sharedair.ca.

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