EPA proposal could allow power plants to pollute more
Opponents call regulations too industry-friendly
WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration proposed new regulations yesterday that could allow the nation's dirtiest power plants to release more air pollutants each year -- and possibly undercut lawsuits aimed at forcing companies to comply with the Clean Air Act.
The proposal follows a June federal court ruling that said power plants can emit more pollutants each year when they modernize to operate for longer hours.
It is the latest in a series of attempts by the Environmental Protection Agency to make the Clean Air Act rules for coal-fired power plants more industry-friendly. Some changes were held up by lawsuits from environmental activists and state officials.
''We are now doing to smokestacks what we did to tailpipes," said Stephen Johnson, the EPA administrator. Johnson predicted the regulations would spur greater technology innovation.
''We want to remove any unnecessary regulatory obstacles," he said. ''We're focused on practical, achievable results that don't get delayed by years of litigation."
The EPA proposal would let utilities calculate emissions on an hourly, rather than annual basis. It affects the nation's 600 coal- burning power plants, which represent 55 percent of the nation's electric generating capacity. Industry officials say the plants are getting cleaner. But they continue to produce millions of tons of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide blamed for smog, acid rain, and soot, and other fine particles that lodge in people's lungs and cause asthma and other respiratory ailments.
The EPA ''is embracing industry-backed loopholes that undermine basic protections for millions of Americans breathing harmful smokestack pollution," said Vickie Patton, an attorney who handles air quality issues for Environmental Defense, an advocacy group.
Proponents say other EPA and state regulations would prevent that from happening. ''The heavy lifting of emissions control is already ensured by tough new EPA rules on interstate emissions and mercury control," said Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, which represents electric utilities.
Utilities are legally obligated to continue to cut their pollution, said Dan Riedinger, spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, another trade group. He said it was ''a gross distortion of the facts" to conclude that power plants would increase pollution.
But an analysis of EPA data by Environmental Defense indicates that many East Coast power plants won't install new controls to clean up sulfur dioxide by 2015, despite the EPA's predictions.
In June, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said
In 2002 and 2003, the Bush administration rewrote how EPA administers a Clean Air Act program that Congress approved in 1977. It was designed to ensure aging power plants would have to install new equipment if they expanded or modernized in a way that results in significantly more air pollution in surrounding communities.
President Clinton used the program to bring suits against 51 aging coal-burning power plants. Those new regulations are on hold while federal courts review challenges to them.