EPA Seeks to Narrow Clean Air Rules

EPA has concluded that a tough Clinton administration initiative\r\naimed at reducing emissions from aging coal-fired power plants should\r\nbe narrowed, The Washington Post reported yesterday.

EPA has concluded that a tough Clinton administration initiative aimed at reducing emissions from aging coal-fired power plants should be narrowed, The Washington Post reported yesterday.

After three months of review, the Bush administration concluded EPA was too inflexible in interpreting what types of plant upgrades warranted expensive new emissions controls.

The New Source Review (NSR) regulations under the Clean Air Act, require old, dirty power plants and refineries to meet modern pollution standards when they undergo major modifications.

The agency is supposed to submit its findings to President Bush next week as a prelude to proposing administrative or legislative changes to the program.

"If there are ways to make the program more effective, more efficient, then absolutely, I''m very interested in that," EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman told the Post.

The NSR program has come under fire from refiners and power plant owners after EPA initiated several enforcement actions in 1999.

During the Clinton administration, the Justice Department and state authorities filed and mounted enforcement actions against 13 power companies for violations at 51 plants in 12 states as part of the NSR.

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

The Wall Street Journal reported on June 28, that Dominion Resource Inc., a Richmond utility, was about to sign a consent decree with the Justice Department in which the company promised to comply with a $1.2 billion pollution control upgrade when government negotiators advised Dominion to wait for the outcome of the EPA review on Aug. 17.

At a press conference at the Capitol last week, public health and environmental groups demonstrated the strong public opposition to gutting the clean air rules and dropping dozens of enforcement cases.

"More than 100,000 citizens around the nation have written letters, signed postcards and sent e-mails to EPA Administrator Whitman urging her to resist pressure to gut clean air rules," said Rebecca Stanfield, attorney for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "Overwhelmingly, Americans support tougher, not weaker, clean air safeguards."

Over the past decade, nearly 600 major plants have emitted tens of millions of tons of pollution in the Midwest, Southeast and Northeast that EPA scientists and environmentalists agree have contributed to serious respiratory problems.

According to a study by the Clean Air Task Force, pollution from the 51 plants targeted by the government triggers up to 170,000 asthma attacks each year.

"Dozens of recent studies reaffirm that the public health from air pollution is urgent and more pollution clean up is necessary," said Paul Billings, assistant vice president, government relations of the American Lung Association. "It is vital that EPA continue to enforce the Clean Air Act."

by Virginia Foran

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