Board Supports Clean Air Legislation

Board Supports Clean Air Legislation

July 10-16, 2002

Coal-fired power plants concern Loudoun's leaders though the county does not have any power plants.

The power plant in Dickerson, Md., which is located across the Potomac River from Leesburg, and four other power plants in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area are close enough for the Board of Supervisors to adopt a resolution July 1 with a message to the state's congressional delegation.

The Board of Supervisors called on Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10) and U.S. Sens. John Warner and George Allen to support federal legislation designed to reduce pollution from coal-fired power plants, specifically House Resolution 1256, the Clean Smokestacks Act of 2001, and Senate Bill 556, the Clean Power Act of 2001.

"Pollution from some nearby coal fire plants are a local concern," said Supervisor Mark Herring (D-Leesburg). "Ordinarily, I wouldn't think the board should get involved in federal matters, but because it affects the air we breath and transportation funding is threatened, I think it's something the board should support."

THE TWO PIECES of legislation are designed to close the "grandfather" loophole of the Clean Air Act by requiring all coal-fired plants to meet modern emission standards. The loophole allows several older power plants to emit four to 10 times the amount of nitrogen oxides as modern plants. Nitrogen oxides are a precursor to ozone, the main component of smog that forms when two pollutants come together in the sunlight. Ozone is a lung irritant that can damage lung tissue and cause respiratory-related illnesses and other health problems.

The metropolitan region, including Loudoun County, is classified as a non-attainment area for ozone, since significant amounts of nitrogen oxides are transported from outside the region.

"Loudoun's pollution problem is no different than the entire region's," said Supervisor James "Jim" Burton (I-Mercer). "It's the region that has to come to grips with it."

The region did not meet Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards for air emissions by the 1999 deadline required in the Clean Air Act. The EPA granted the region an extension to clean up the air by 2005 before the state could begin putting sanctions in place, such as cutting federal highway funding and requiring stricter emission offsets.

A 1990 amendment to the Clean Air Act established federal health standards for six pollutants. The region met the requirements for five of the pollutants and exceeded the requirement for ground level ozone emissions, which is capped at 125 parts per billion (ppb) in one hour for the one-hour standard. Northern Virginia is one of three regions in the Southeast that failed to meet the standard.

THE EPA is considering a more restrictive requirement of 80 ppb in eight hours. An ozone monitor in Ashburn recorded nine instances when ozone levels exceeded 80 ppb within eight hours. The highest reading —104 ppb — occurred on June 13, 2001.

"If we aren't able to turn that situation around, we as a region could lose transportation funding," Herring said. "That would have a tremendous effect on our ability to deal with congestion."

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)'s Six-Year Program for 2002-08 cut 123 lane miles of road projects from the $7.3 billion transportation plan. The cut results in a lowering of emissions and allows the region to conform to the Clean Air Act this year, but likely not next year, Burton said.

"It really doesn't matter if the sales tax passes or not. All those road projects we won't be able to use, unless more existing road projects are taken out to make more room for them," Burton said, referring to sales tax referendum for transportation and education funding. "It's going to take a major change in the land use pattern in the region."

Loudoun has taken a few steps to address pollution, such as encouraging alternative modes of transportation, planting and preserving trees, and including environmental concerns in the county's general plan and land use policies.

"The land use policies are designed to have compact, more efficient development and [to] eliminate sprawl," said Kirby Bowers, county administrator. "We do things in Loudoun County to minimize air pollution, but we are impacted by ... points west of us."

THE BOARD of Supervisors' resolution asks the delegation to support other legislation aimed to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides beyond the current standards and address the emissions of mercury and carbon dioxide from power plants. Sulfur dioxide is the major cause of acid rain, while nitrogen oxide is a major contributor to ozone pollution.

Virginia's coal-fired power plants produce 98 percent of the sulfur dioxide and 96 percent of the nitrogen oxide that is emitted from the state's electric fleet, as stated in the resolution. Eight of 10 coal-fired plants in the state do not meet modern pollution standards for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides of the Clean Air Act.

"We're going to have to face the same thing next year," Burton said.