Who Pays for Cutting Smog-Causing Emissions?

Who Pays for Cutting Smog-Causing Emissions?

  • July 26th, 2019

Who Pays for Cutting Smog-Causing Emissions?

On September 24, 1998 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered 22 states east of the Mississippi to reduce smog-causing emissions in a move to halt wind-borne air pollution in the Northeast. The order requires states to have a clean-air plan in place by September of this year and controls by 2003. The move is expected to prevent thousands of cases each year of smog-related illnesses such as bronchitis and exacerbated cases of childhood asthma. Nitrogen oxides, referred to collectively as NOx, are the main smog-causing pollutants. The EPA order requires that by 2003 the 22 states (actually 21 states, since Rhode Island does not have to reduce its emissions) reduce their NOx emissions by a total of 1.16 million tons annually from 1997 levels. See page 4 for the specific list of states and their required reductions.Large, fossil-fuel burning power plants and automobiles are the major sources of NOx emissions. The EPA estimates that it will cost $1,500 per ton of NOx reduction by utilities, compared to $3,400 per ton by automobiles. Thus, the EPA advocates focusing on power plants and estimates that the reduction can be achieved by adding $1 to the average consumer’s bill. Some industry and state environmental officials disagree. They distrust EPA’s estimates regarding wind-borne smog traveling to the Northeast and EPA’s estimate of the pollution-reducing cost per electricity consumer. These concerns raise the question: Who pays for NOx reduction to benefit only the Northeast? In other words, does the EPA Order burden the states equitably?

Trendline analyses between states’ required NOx reductions and selected economic and demographic data reveal several interesting facts.

On cursory inspection it would seem that states with larger populations are being required to reduce more; however, the percentage reduction is independent of population size. States with lower per capita income are being required to reduce more, in both amount of and percent reduction, so that the poor are being asked to bear a greater burden. States that use more electricity are required to reduce more emissions, making the EPA Order seem fair. However, states that generate and export electricity have an even higher burden.Although automobile NOx emission reduction is more costly, some experts advocate placing the burden on the driver who is using the road and causing the smog. But automobiles are not the main focus of the EPA Order. Electricity is being targeted, even though it is not fair to burden every electricity consumer equally, when the benefits are primarily for one section of the country.

What does all this mean for Alabama? Alabama’s low per capita income indicates a lower ability to afford clean air and health benefits for our northeastern sisters, even if we are willing to pay for that. Alabama is also a net exporter of electricity—a factor for which the state should receive credits rather than blame. Thus, the state is being targeted unfairly to bear the cost of benefits to the Northeast.

Alabama has local emissions problems to deal with. The air in some of our own counties is not clean. Adopting emissions controls on vehicles would help alleviate the local pollution. And, we are also required, somehow, to help pay for cleaning the air in the Northeast.

Samuel N. Addy

States Required to Reduce Smop-Causing Emissions

Nitrogen Oxide Emissions

   to be Cut by the Year 2003


                  Electricity, 1997         

Miles of

Federal, Public,

Reduction from



and Interstate

Per Capita



1997 Levels

(million KWh)

(million KWh)

Road, 1995

Income, 1997


Alabama 59,934 27 73,410 113,684 117,714 $20,599
Connecticut 3,234 7 28,377 13,228 26,569 35,954
Delaware 2,413 12 10,025 6,579 7,110 28,443
Georgia 63,158 26 100,400 101,780 142,671 23,893
Illinois 100,965 32 125,882 131,138 173,627 27,927
Indiana 114,169 36 88,400 110,466 116,053 23,183
Kentucky 75,298 33 75,748 91,558 88,143 20,599
Maryland 21,182 23 56,481 44,553 37,586 28,571
Massachusetts 1,647 2 47,543 33,899 42,013 31,207
Michigan 88,842 30 97,029 89,565 151,991 24,998
Missouri 60,556 35 65,268 71,073 154,148 23,723
New Jersey 9,961 9 66,495 23,761 45,498 32,233
New York 10,590 6 131,602 108,099 139,775 30,299
North Carolina 61,449 29 108,439 107,371 118,159 23,174
Ohio 132,728 36 156,606 141,249 144,019 24,203
Pennsylvania 79,338 24 126,512 177,167 147,396 25,578
Rhode Island 6,680 3,563 7,547 25,589
South Carolina 29,281 21 67,798 78,374 82,414 20,551
Tennessee 69,950 28 86,001 93,293 103,428 22,752
Virginia 35,331 18 87,242 58,986 91,340 26,172
West Virginia 97,967 51 26,224 88,284 45,920 18,734
Wisconsin 38,851 27 59,943 48,560 139,776 24,199

Sources: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis; U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration; U.S.
Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration; and Environmental Protection Agency.