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Improving CT's air quality is a puzzle. Advocates hope new EPA ruling is one key piece

The smoke stacks at American Electric Power's (AEP) Mountaineer coal power plant in New Haven, West Virginia, October 30, 2009.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images
The smokestacks at American Electric Power's Mountaineer coal power plant in New Haven, West Virginia, Oct. 30, 2009.

Connecticut has some of the worst air quality on the East Coast in part because of what happens in other states. A ruling from the Environmental Protection Agency in March is designed to change that.

The EPA policy is nicknamed the “good neighbor” rule. It requires power plants and other industrial sites west and south of New England to reduce nitrogen oxide and other harmful emissions.

That pollution plays a major role in the creation of ground-level ozone, commonly known as smog, said Lynne Hamjian, the Air and Radiation Division director for the EPA’s New England region.

“The chemical or pollutants that form ozone locally in Connecticut travel from great distances,” Hamjian said.

The American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2022 report labeled Fairfield County as the worst polluted county east of the Mississippi River. All shoreline counties in Connecticut got an “F” for the number of high ozone level days they experience.

The EPA policy will be enacted in stages. “Initial phases of nitrogen oxide emission reductions will take place as soon as August 2024,” Hamjian said. “We’ll have another set of reductions taking place by the 2026 summer ozone season.”

The EPA said the new regulations will cut nitrogen oxide emissions in half within four years and lead to better health for the millions of people living in downwind states, like Connecticut.

Ruth Canovi, the American Lung Association’s director of advocacy in Connecticut, said breathing in ground-level ozone “is like a sunburn of the lung.”

She said that the EPA’s ruling is an “important step” but that “we think that the standards should be tighter.”

Other states aren’t the only culprit

Connecticut residents can’t place all the blame for the state’s bad air quality on other states.

The EPA’s Hamjian said local mobile sources of pollution, like vehicles, diesel trucks and airplanes, also contribute to the state’s smog issue.

“We really need to do more in several mobile source sectors like the EPA just did when we signed the heavy duty diesel rule,” Hamjian said.

That rule, issued last December, places more stringent emissions standards on heavy-duty trucks manufactured after 2026.

Hamjian said that improving Connecticut’s air quality is a puzzle with many facets and the EPA’s rulings are big steps in that direction.

Jennifer Ahrens is a producer for Morning Edition. She spent 20+ years producing TV shows for CNN and ESPN. She joined Connecticut Public Media because it lets her report on her two passions, nature and animals.
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