With federal highway grants at stake, Guam is facing sanction from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its failure to craft a plan for clearing the asthma-causing sulfur dioxide air pollution in the Cabras-Piti area.
Along with Guam, also facing sanctions are Indiana, Louisiana and Puerto Rico, which all failed to comply with the planning requirements of the Clean Air Act for ambient air quality standards.
"This action triggers certain CAA deadlines for the EPA to impose sanctions if a state or territory does not submit a complete (State Implementation Plan) addressing the outstanding requirements and for the EPA to promulgate a Federal Implementation Plan if the EPA does not approve a state or territory's SIP," EPA stated in the final rule posted on the Federal Register on Nov. 3.
The final rule is effective Dec. 3. From this date, Guam and the three other jurisdictions have 18 months to dodge EPA's "highway sanction" by filing their individual State Implementation Plans.
CAA authorizes EPA to impose "highway sanctions," which prohibit the awarding of certain grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation to delinquent jurisdictions.
According to Guam Department of Public Works' website, DOT's Federal Highway Administration allocates $18.4 million a year to the government of Guam for highway projects.
"The EPA has determined that there is good cause for making this final agency action without prior proposal and opportunity for comment because no significant EPA judgment is involved in making findings of failure to submit SIPs, or elements of SIPs, required by the CAA," EPA's final rule reads.
EPA's action was triggered by a lawsuit filed in August by three conservation groups, which sued EPA for its failure to crack the whip on the four states and territories that were found to have sulfur dioxide emissions at levels high enough to cause ecological harm and human health problems.
Sulfur dioxide is a major element of the exhaust from coal-burning power plants and a component of acid rain.
The lawsuit, filed by Biological Diversity, Center for Environmental Health and the Sierra Club, cited studies that linked sulfur dioxide to respiratory distress, asthma, emphysema and bronchitis.
"The EPA missed its legal deadline for issuing a formal finding that plans were missing to clean up sulfur dioxide air pollution in the affected areas. This forced conservation groups to sue the EPA for failing to do its job to protect people, wildlife and natural areas," the groups said in a joint statement on Oct. 8.
Prior to the lawsuit, EPA entered into a settlement with the Guam Power Authority and the Marianas Energy Company, which had been previously cited for operating residual oil-fired electric generating units without emissions controls at the Piti and Cabras Power Plants.
The settlement, announced on Feb. 10, was anticipated to reduce emissions of hazardous air pollutants by approximately 39 tons per year.
Additionally, the fuel switch required by the settlement will have an added benefit of lowering emissions of sulfur dioxide by approximately 12,500 tons per year in the Cabras – Piti area. This represents a 99 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide emissions, EPA said in a press release issued Feb. 10.
The settlement required the retrofitting of two Piti Engine Units by switching completely to ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel and installing emissions controls; the replacement of the Cabras Steam Units which have operated beyond their useful life; and the construction of100 megawatts of solar power generation as well as a 40 megawatt energy storage system.