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New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services
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Particle Pollution (Particulate Matter)
New Hampshire Petition for Abatement of Excessive Emissions
Questions and Answers Regarding "Section 126" Petitions
by New Hampshire and Other Northeast States
 
  • What action is being taken by New Hampshire and other Northeast states?
    The Northeast states have petitioned EPA to require dirty power plants and large industrial facilities throughout the eastern half of the United States to reduce their emissions of nitrogen oxides ("NOx"), the key ingredient of ozone smog and an important contributor to many other health and environmental problems, including fine particulate matter, acid rain, regional haze, and global climate change. The Northeast states are already making similar reductions and may need to do more. We can't afford to have these efforts compromised by pollution blown in from upwind. The legal basis of the Northeast states' petitions is Section 126 of the Clean Air Act.
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  • What is behind these petitions?
    At the root of these Section 126 actions is a conflict between the Northeast states and relatively uncontrolled polluters upwind. The Northeast states want to protect their citizens and businesses, and have made (and/or are committed to making) substantial NOx reductions at their power plants and industrial facilities. Dirty power plants outside the region want to continue to sell electricity without reducing their pollution; large industrial facilities upwind similarly want to avoid taking responsibility for the pollution they emit.
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  • What are the Northeast states asking for?
    Equity! All of the petitioning states have already agreed to impose further, stringent pollution control requirements on their power plants and large industrial plants (up to 65% NOx reductions by 1999 and 75% by 2003). New Hampshire's regulations called for these reductions on an even faster schedule, 1995 and 1999 respectively. All we're asking for is for dirty upwind plants to do the same. Otherwise, Northeast citizens and businesses will be forced to spend more and more to clean up after-the-fact air pollution, when it would be relatively inexpensive to clean it up at the source.
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  • Why do the Northeast states care about pollution that happens hundreds of miles away?
    ecause pollutants in this case NOx and ozone smog – can be transported by prevailing winds hundreds of miles from their source. The dominant wind direction in the eastern U.S. is west to east; the same winds that bring storms toward us from the west carry airborne pollutants toward us as well. As a result, pollutants generated outside the region frequently contribute to unhealthful air quality in the Northeast. This summer there have already been 22 days when federal health standards for ozone have been exceeded in some part of the Northeast. Unhealthful air has even been monitored in remote areas of the region, such as the summit of Mt. Washington in northern New Hampshire and in Acadia National Park on the coast of Maine.
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  • Who else will gain from cleaning up dirty power plants and industrial facilities?
    Citizens throughout the eastern half of the U.S. The Northeast has the highest short-lived ozone peaks, but residents of large areas in the industrial Midwest and the Southeast have higher average ozone concentrations during ozone events; they breathe elevated ozone longer. If EPA controls NOx emissions as requested by these Section 126 petitions, average summertime ozone levels will be significantly reduced. Besides lowering ozone smog, NOx controls will also reduce acid rain, fine particle pollution, and eutrophication of our lakes. Addressing these issues will have a positive impact on public health, water quality, forest and agricultural productivity, and fisheries.
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  • Why are the Northeast states targeting power plants and large industrial units?
    Because these facilities are large emitters of NOx, the air pollutant most important in determining regional ozone levels. In addition, many plants have tall smokestacks which inject NOx and other pollutants directly into the upper atmosphere where they are more efficiently transported toward us by prevailing winds. Reductions from power plants are also comparatively inexpensive, so reducing NOx from such sources can be particularly cost-effective. Recently, a multi-stakeholder, consensus-building effort called the Ozone Transport Assessment Group ("OTAG"), concluded that reducing NOx emissions by as much as 85% from power plants would be necessary to address the problem of ozone transport in the eastern U.S. Of the 37 states involved in OTAG, 32 agreed with this conclusion.
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  • Why are pollution levels at Midwestern plants so high?
    Many coal-fired plants outside the Northeast are located in rural areas that don't exceed the current ozone standard. As a result, some have installed only minimal NOx controls, and many have not installed any NOx controls at all. In addition, many of these plants are quite old (over 30 years) and were "grand-fathered" under the Clean Air Act because Congress assumed that they would be retired soon. However, this has not happened. By contrast, power plants in the Northeast, most of which are located in areas that violate federal air quality standards, have had to reduce their NOx emissions significantly.
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  • Are these Section 126 petitions related to EPA's new air quality standards?
    Not directly, but they certainly will help regions meet the new national ozone and fine particulate matter standards. In fact, EPA has estimated that reducing NOx emissions from power plants and large industrial facilities as requested in the Northeast states' petitions will enable most areas that would otherwise be in nonattainment to meet the new, more stringent ozone standard.
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  • Why are the Northeast states filing these petitions now?
    To protect their citizens' health and because they are under deadlines to attain federally mandate air quality standards. Ozone is a lung irritant that particularly affects children and adults who play or exercise outdoors, and people with respiratory diseases. It can cause difficulty in breathing and, in cases of prolonged exposure, permanent lung damage. In addition, ozone damages agricultural crops and forests and has other negative environmental impacts. Without reducing the pollution from dirty power plants and industrial facilities outside the region, Northeast states cannot hope to achieve healthful air quality. Moreover, this situation has the potential to get worse unless something is done about it now. The deregulation of the electric power industry is likely to increase demand for power from cheap plants that haven't invested in pollution controls. If the cheapest, dirtiest plants run more as a result of deregulation, the adverse effects of ozone transport will increase.
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  • Where are the power plants and large industrial facilities that contribute significantly to New Hampshire's air quality problems located?
    While the impact of NOx emissions diminishes the further upwind one goes, state-of-the-art air quality modeling indicates that NOx emissions from as far away as the Mississippi River Valley make a discernible difference to ozone levels in New Hampshire. As a result, New Hampshire's Section 126 petition targets any sizable NOx source, near or far, located in the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia, as well as portions of Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, and Wisconsin.
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  • If EPA agrees with the Northeast states' petitions, how much will it cost?
    Nox controls on power plants and big industrial boilers are not only the most environmentally effective ozone controls, they are the least costly as well, ranging from 2 to 10 times less expensive than other control measures. If implemented like the EPA's Acid Rain program to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions, aggressive NOx controls on power plants and large industrial units could be implemented throughout the eastern half of the U.S. at an estimated cost of $1.6 billion to $3.4 billion. This is about half of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's estimate of the benefits of utility restructuring on the wholesale level. In other words, while an average ratepayer might see a 70¢ increase on his monthly electric bill for NOx controls, wholesale electric competition will cut his bill by $1.40, and retail electric competition will reduce electric bills even further.
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  • What happens next?
    EPA has 60 days to hold a public hearing and must respond to the Northeast states' petitions within 2 to 8 months. If EPA agrees with the Section 126 petitions, it will establish emissions reduction requirements for the dirty power plants that must be met within three years. If NOx reductions are pursued through other, currently available regulatory routes, it would take 5 to 10 years to achieve similar reductions.
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