In Maine, they blame it on New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Connecticut accuses New York and New Jersey. New Jersey points to the District of Columbia and Arkansas says they're all guilty.
Every accuser is right.
A not-very-gentle war has erupted among the states. The issue is smog. Nobody wants it, especially when a thick, smelly brew of other peoples' chemical waste comes wafting over borders.
Now a battle is being waged over how the stuff should be stopped, a battle that pits region against region, cities against the countryside, industry against environmentalists and the federal government against everybody.
The outcome of the struggle, under way in the courts and the offices of the Environmental Protection Agency, will affect millions of dollars in industrial development and the economies of beleaguered northeastern states which compete for factories with the rural South.
"We could shut down the state of New Jersey and we'd still never meet federal smog standards," says Paul Arbesman, a New Jersey environmental official.
The complaint, echoed in many other states, reflects a phenomenon nobody foresaw when Congress passed the 1970 Clean Air Act: long distance transport. Recent scientific studies have revealed that pollution travels hundreds of miles in stagnant summer air masses that pick up fresh chemicals along the way.
Smog is produced by a reaction between nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons in the presence of sunlight -- a reaction that can occur miles from the state that first produced the hydrocarbons. New Jersey, for instance, has calculated that the maximum impact of its petrochemical industry is on the town of Darby, Conn.
After years of delay and epic showdowns over smog-producing autos, Congress has told the states to submit plans, to take effect in July, to meet the health standard for smog in three years. This standard is violated by almost every major city in the nation.
And so, like a child in a kindergarten class caught with an empty cookie jar, the states are pointing at each other accusingly. New Jersey, joined by six other northeastern states and the District of Columbia, has sued the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. Court of Appeals here, claiming it can't clean up until southern and midwestern states do, too.
Arkansas, New Mexico, Missouri and Georgia have intervened on the other side. The problem, says Arkansas, is all that dirty air floating down from the northeast.
The argument is far from trivial since the states that don't meet federal standards will be forced to adopt politically unpopular inspection and maintenance programs for automobiles and expensive controls on industry. Those that don't clean up face loss of federal highway and sewer money.
New Jersey's suit attacks an EPA decision last year that allowed most states to avoid strict cleanup measures outside small urban areas. Because of long distance transport, most probably violate the standards in rural areas, too, but they haven't monitored the air. Thus, EPA says, they are "unclassifiable" and don't have to adopt the onerous regulations of dirty-air regions.
Northeastern states, on the other hand, have told EPA that they violate smog sandards even in rural areas. "We were good little boys," Arbesman said. "We put in monitors five years ago. Places like Mississippi and Louisiana didn't so they don't have to clean up, while we suffer."
EPA's response is ambivalent. On one hand, EPA air official Walter Barber says, "New Jersey is wrong. Within 500 miles of Trenton we estimate that 90 percent of major [industry pollution] sources are in designated nonattainment areas." In other words, most of the factories that would affect New Jersey are in urban areas subject to strict controls.
However, EPA Administrator Douglas Costle characterizes long distance transport, not only of ozone but also of powerplant-produced sulfates, as "a very large problem... a regional issue." And the agency officially recommended that states east of the Mississippi classify themselves as not meeting the smog standard, even in rural areas.
But whether for scientific, legal or political reasons, EPA stopped short of requiring them to do so -- which is what New Jersey and its allies now want. They claim EPA's aircraft data show smog violations throughout the unclassified areas. EPA claims aircraft data is inconclusive.
"EPA is saying, 'We don't want to know [how much pollution they have in rural areas] because we have enough of a political battle on our hands controlling urban areas,'" Arbesman charged. "New Jersey is saying, 'We don't trust EPA to bite off the next piece.' It's not politically popular to talk about industrial controls and inspection and maintenance in the South."
About half the nation's smog comes from cars, and half from hydrocarbonproducing industry such as oil refineries and chemical plants. New Jersey claims that unclassified rural areas east of the Mississippi spew out enough gasoline fumes to equal 80 times New Jersey's industrial pollution, a problem EPA says will be overcome by new auto emission control equipment.
Arkansas' pollution control director, Jarrell Southall, is unimpressed with New Jersey's argument. "Look at the amount of pollution, the density of industry and population and the amount of gasoline sold in New Jersey as compared to Arkansas," he said. "They say they want controls to apply equally throughout the U.S. But that just doesn't ring true."
New Jersey and its co-plaintiffs -- including New York, Maine Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island, and the District -- are worried about economic discrimination. "It's going to cost more to do business in New Jersey than in Mississippi," Arbesman said, adding that EPA is creating "industrial sanctuaries."
Beyond that, however, is te fact that unless those other states clean up, the northeast may never have healthy air. The air in New Jersey, as in Washington for example, is often twice as smoggy as allowed by even the recently set ozone standard, which was relaxed in response to political, eocnomic and scientific pressures.
Unless the air coming into these states from the South and West is cleaned up, New Jersey and its neighbors can regulate every industry down to a one-booth spray paint shop (which is what many are doing) and they can require motorists to keep their cars tuned (New Jersey has the first such statewide program in the nation) but all to little avail, they say.
EPA denies any state will be penalized because agency rules assume, optimistically perhaps, that the air wafting into all states is clean. At any rate, says assistant administrator Hawkins. "The contributions from upwind areas are not as great as the contributions from the areas themselves."
Hawkins likes to tell the story of the village green where everybody grazes his sheep. "No family wants to take its sheep off the green because they won't get any benefits. However, if too many sheep are placed there the green is destroyed because no one cooperated." Likewise, he indicates, clean air isn't a free commodity to be used indiscriminately.