EPA to Delay Utility Emission Rules

EPA announced yesterday that it will postpone the deadline for its review of rules that would change the way power plants and refineries are regulated for clean air violations.

EPA announced yesterday that it will postpone the deadline for its review of rules that would change the way power plants and refineries are regulated for clean air violations.

The agency was supposed to give a report of its review of the New Source Review (NSR) program to the White House this week, but EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said the report will be delayed until sometime in September.

"This fall, we will put forward an ambitious proposal that will reduce air pollution from power plants significantly more than the existing system," said Whitman. "Subsequently, we will release the NSR report called for by the [the Bush administration''s] national energy plan."

The NSR program requires utilities and other industries to install pollution controls when a new facility is build, or when an existing facility makes changes that significantly increase emissions.

EPA initiated its review of the NSR program in response to a recommendation from the president''s National Energy Policy Development Group. During EPA''s review of the NSR program, the agency met with more than 100 groups, held four public meetings and received more than 130,000 written comments from the public.

But environmental groups denounced the delay by EPA as a giveaway to industry, the cost of which will be measured in thousands of lives.

"This delay sends a clear signal that EPA is heading in the wrong direction despite public input, leaving the door open to a rollback of the NSR program at a later time," said Rebecca Stanfield, attorney for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). "That time could be as early as next month, after the agency releases the details of a legislative proposal to cap nitrogen, sulfur and mercury emissions from power plants. However, a power plant clean-up bill that does not include carbon dioxide reductions will not gain the support of the environmental community and is therefore highly unlikely to move in Congress. Such a proposal will only serve as a smokescreen behind which EPA is poised to weaken or eliminate key enforcement tools of the current Clean Air Act regulatory scheme."

The National Energy Policy Development Group also recommended that Department of Justice (DOJ) conduct an independent review of existing NSR enforcement actions to ensure they are consistent with the Clean Air Act.

The rules initiated by the Clinton administration have come under fire from refiners and power plant owners after EPA initiated several enforcement actions in 1999.

DOJ has already put on hold dozens of cases against utilities, oil companies and other firms accused or suspected of violating the Clean Air Act.

During the Clinton administration, DOJ and state authorities filed and mounted enforcement actions against 13 power companies for violations at 51 plants in 12 states.

by Virginia Foran

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