EPA Abandons Attempts to Change Clean Air Rules

WASHINGTON, DC, December 11, 2008 (ENS) - The Bush administration has dropped plans to adopt two Clean Air Act rules that would have allowed power plants and other polluters to increase smog and soot pollution.

The first rule concerned the Clean Air Act's New Source Review program. It would have allowed coal-fired power plants to increase their power output by installing new equipment without adopting pollution controls.

The second abandoned rule would have weakened special air quality protections that Congress adopted for national parks and wilderness areas. If the rule had been adopted, it would have been easier to build a coal-fired power plant, refinery or factory near a national park.

Both rules had faced opposition from public health and environmental groups, state and local air quality regulators, and prominent members of Congress.

EPA officials had been trying to finalize both proposals before President-elect Barack Obama is sworn in January 20. The have both been in the works for years.

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, was pleased with the agency's decision.

"Our children and families can breathe easier now that the EPA has abandoned two controversial plans to undermine clean air protections through midnight regulations," she said. "EPA has many other damaging and dangerous rules under consideration that deserve the same fate."

"EPA’s decision to reconsider issuing a severely deficient air pollution rule that would have exempted almost every power plant in this country from installing modern pollution control technology is the correct one," said Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies.

The proposal would have allowed electric generating units to use the "hourly test" to comply with New Source Review rules. The practical effect of this proposal would have been devastating to public health and welfare, explained Becker.

"Utilities would have been able to expand their operations and increase air pollution significantly without installing modern pollution control technology, conducting air quality analyses to determine impacts on nearby jurisdictions and offsetting their emissions in certain circumstances," he said.

The Natural Resources Defense Council first urged EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson to abandon the New Source Review rule in August, following a July court decision that overturned EPA’s Clean Air Interstate Rule, which EPA had relied upon as its primary justification for pursuing the weaker NSR rule.

In its announcement Wednesday, the EPA pointed to the fate of its Clean Air Interstate Rule as the primary reason for dropping the New Source Review rule.

"I am heartened that both of these destructive and unlawful air pollution rules will not be forced upon the American people, said the NRDC's John Walke. "With the barbarians at the gate having pulled up their tents and headed for the hills, we can look forward as a civilized society to tackling the critical problems of global warming, smog and soot pollution that continues to damage our health, and toxic mercury that contaminates our waters."

"NRDC looks forward to working with the incoming administration to protect our air quality and the health of all Americans," he said.

However, the EPA Wednesday finalized a rule that exempts "fugitive emissions" from being counted for some major industries in determining whether emissions sources making modifications to their facilities trigger New Source Review requirements.

Fugitive emissions are pollutants released to the air other than those from stacks or vents. They are often due to equipment leaks, evaporative processes, and windblown disturbances.

"Fugitive emissions would be included in determining whether a physical or operational change is a major modification only for industries designated through previous Clean Air Act rulemakings," the EPA states.

"It is no coincidence," said Becker, "that the agency has finalized another rule today on fugitive emissions that allows other major industrial facilities such as mining operations and ethanol production plants, to escape these important requirements."

Affected industries include electric services, petroleum refining, industrial chemical products, and pulp and paper mills.

{Photo: The coal-fired Cross power plant in South Carolina is operated by Santee Cooper. (Photo courtesy Santee Cooper)}

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