Late petitioner: The state is slow to seek EPA’s help on bad air

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Pennsylvania has done the right thing, no doubt about it. But there is doubt about why it took so long.

The right thing was the state signing a petition to the federal Environmental Protection Agency to require Midwestern states upwind from Pennsylvania to reduce ozone-producing emissions known to be harmful to health. This Pennsylvania did on Tuesday, and thank goodness for that.

But on Monday eight states filed that petition without Pennsylvania’s signature. The petitioners are members of the Ozone Transport Region and they want to have Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia join the OTR and reduce their emissions, most of which are from coal-fired plants.

The petition is the first attempt by states to use the federal Clean Air Act provisions that allow the EPA to expand an air quality region if pollution from one state is causing air quality violations in downwind states.

So why did Pennsylvania delay in joining Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont in calling on the EPA? On Monday, the Post-Gazette was told by a spokesman in the governor’s office that the state Department of Environmental Protection was continuing to assess the impact of emissions from the west. He could not say when a decision on signing the petition might be made. The next day Pennsylvania signed.

Bureaucracies have a reputation for studying at the expense of deciding and maybe that is what happened here. But the only outward difference between Monday and Tuesday was a Page One headline in the Post-Gazette pointing out that Pennsylvania hadn’t joined the effort to demand that Midwest states curb the toxic air that they export here. That didn’t look good, even for an administration from a party on record as not liking the EPA and the Clean Air Act. The problem is that while ideology is satisfying to some people, all Pennsylvanians have to breathe — and breathing the pollution from other states is a political loser.

In the absence of a more complete official explanation, the reason for the delay is blowing in the wind, but the signing came better late than ever.

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