Maryland again made the National Resource Defense Council’s notorious list of “Toxic 20” states, but its greatly improved ranking reflected efforts to clean the air of power plant toxins, officials said.
The state fell from having the fifth-most toxic air in 2009 to 19th place in 2010, the most recent data that NRDC used.
Among the 20 states on the list, Maryland showed the largest reduction — 88 percentage points — in toxic air pollution from power plants, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2010 data.
In a conference call Thursday, John Walke, clean air director and senior attorney for the NRDC, called Maryland’s move in the rankings “a truly astonishing drop.”
Walke attributed Maryland’s improvement to “a very progressive state law that they adopted early on,” and speedy compliance from power plant companies. He also cited state and congressional leadership.
The Maryland Healthy Air Act, enacted in 2009, required power plants to significantly reduce the output of mercury and other toxic compounds, and is regarded as a highly-stringent law.
Power plant companies in Maryland have spent $2.6 billion to meet the law’s benchmarks so far, said Jay Apperson, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Overall, there has been a 19 percent reduction in power plant toxins nationwide. Peter Altman, climate and clean air campaign director for the NRDC, said the overall reduction largely is a result of power plants’ decisions to convert to natural gases and institute pollution controls.
Exelon spokesman Kevin Thornton said the energy company, at the time called Constellation, spent more than $1 billion since 2006 to reduce its pollutant output, including on a “scrubber,” which removes about 90 percent of mercury. The scrubber was installed at its Brand Shores plant, and other retrofitting measures were taken at its H.A. Wagner and C.P. Crane plants.
Thornton said the company will continue its efforts to balance costs and the impact it has on the environment as state regulations change.
“We need to continue to keep up with these changes,” Thornton said.
Apperson said the effects of the Maryland Healthy Air Act would have affected the state’s 2010 pollutants figures, which were featured in the NRDC’s analysis.
“These aren’t even the most recent numbers,” Apperson said. “The recent numbers are even more impressive.”
Although Maryland remains on the NRDC’s list, Apperson said power plant companies have “stepped up.”
“We’re trending in the right direction, and we’re trending in a strong way,” he said.