Air pollution from power plants hundreds of miles away could
be harming both your children and the fish in your local stream.
By Tom Zolper
About one-third of the nitrogen pollution entering the
Chesapeake and its tributaries comes from the air in
the form of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and ammonia.
NOx can harm both human health and water quality. In
hot summer months, NOx often turns into ozone, which
causes breathing problems for children, senior citizens,
and others who have sensitive lungs. NOx also settles
into our water, either directly or through rain storms.
It triggers dead zones of low oxygen in the water.
NOx is generated wherever fossil fuels are burned.
Coal-fired power plants produce high amounts.
So do cars and trucks. Federal and state regulations
have substantially reduced NOx from the nation’s
power plants; however, more must be done. Maryland
Department of the Environment estimates that on
some summer days 70 percent of the ozone hurting
state residents originates from out-of-state sources,
some as far as 200 to 300 miles away.
The other major form of airborne nitrogen is ammonia
from poultry and livestock operations. New studies
indicate that roughly one-half of the airborne nitrogen
deposited to the Bay is from ammonia.
Cleaner air will mean cleaner water.
“Air pollution is damaging to both water quality and
human health in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.”
—Ariel Solaski, CBF Staff Litigation Attorney
Holding power plants accountable
CBF and six regional and national groups concerned
with human health and a clean environment filed suit
in October against the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA). The organizations want federal action
to stop 19 out-of-state power plants from harming
Marylanders and the Chesapeake Bay with air pollution.
The state of Maryland took similar legal action.
The targeted plants are in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana,
West Virginia, and Kentucky. All are coal-fired plants.
They all have pollution-control technology but don’t
use it fully and efficiently. As a result, the plants save
money—$24 million in one recent summer. Air pollution
emissions from the plants drift to Maryland and other
EPA promised in the regional Bay clean-up plan called the
Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint that it would lower
the amount of nitrogen emitted into the atmosphere.
Also, the “good neighbor” provision of the Clean Air Act
prohibits states from harming downwind states with air
pollution. Yet the agency ignored Maryland’s petition last
year for a response to the 19 plants’ emissions.
If the plants used their pollution controls effectively
through the summer they would send about 39,000 fewer
tons of NOx to Maryland each summer. That would mean
healthier Marylanders and cleaner water.
Tom Zolper is the Assistant Media
Director for CBF. His interests
include hiking and playing jazz
standards on the piano.
FROM OUR PODCAST—CBF President Will
Baker talks with CBF attorneys Ariel Solaski
and Alayna Chuney: cbf.org/podcast-66
ON THE WEB—Visit our case landing page at