EPA is criticized for delaying pollution rules
Agency denies GOP’s election gains are a factor
WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency is delaying stricter limits on two key pollutants, smog and mercury, and drawing complaints from environmental groups who said President Obama’s administration appears to be caving in to political pressure from Republicans.
“It is hard to avoid the impression that EPA is running scared from the incoming Congress,’’ said Frank O’Donnell, president of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch.
Republicans took control of the House and gained in the Senate in the midterm elections, and many GOP lawmakers have vowed to target what they call the EPA’s job-killing regulations. Environmental groups and some Democrats said the administration is delaying new rules in an attempt to placate GOP lawmakers.
O’Donnell called a seven-month delay in the smog rule “a bitter pill to swallow’’ and said the EPA has had nearly a year to evaluate it.
An EPA spokesman denied politics played a role and said delays are needed to ensure the final decisions are grounded in the best science.
While delaying smog and mercury standards, “EPA is moving forward with a number of national rules that will significantly reduce pollution and improve public health,’’ said Brendan Gilfillan, an EPA spokesman.
The rules include steps designed to reduce harmful emissions from cars, power plants, and other industrial facilities that contribute to ozone formation, Gilfillan said, adding that the delays won’t affect health.
Senator Tom Carper, Democrat of Delaware, said he was disappointed by the delay in the ozone rule. Strict standards on lung-damaging smog will not take effect Jan. 1, as expected, but by the end of July.
Once in place, the rules could mean that communities far from congested highways and belching smokestacks would join big cities and industrial corridors in violation of EPA air pollution limits. The proposal presents a range for the allowable concentration of ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog, from 60 parts per billion to 70 parts, down from 75 parts per billion.
The delay leaves millions of Americans “unprotected from harmful ozone air pollution under an outdated, ineffective ozone standard,’’ Carper said. “This decision also keeps states in limbo about what standards they need to meet.’’
Gilfillan said the new smog standards would help prevent up to 12,000 premature deaths and 58,000 cases of aggravated asthma and save up to $100 billion in health care costs.
The EPA said 5,000 deaths could be prevented each year under new rules to limit the amount of mercury and other harmful pollutants released by industrial boilers and incinerators. The planned rules are intended to cut mercury emissions in half.