Clean Air Axed

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In yet another staggering example of what passes for environmental policy-making in the Bush administration, the EPA announced Wednesday that it would weaken the “new source review (NSR)” provisions of the Clean Air Act. Under the new rules, scores of industrial plants — factories, refineries, and power plants — will be exempted from the NSR rules.

The National Petrochemical & Refiners Association is (surprise, surprise) ecstatic about the changes, stating in a press release that they “believe that these NSR reforms represent an important and well-considered step which will help maintain a healthy and diverse U.S. refining and petrochemical industry.” Obviously. Clearly, no one bothered to tell the NPRA that the EPA isn’t charged with maintaining the health of the petrochemical industry. Or perhaps it is, under the Bush administration.

The American Lung Association, on the other hand, is livid. In its press release, the Association vilifies the EPA:

“Reams of scientific studies have shown conclusively that air pollution, such as the pollution these industries produce, causes increased asthma attacks, emergency room visits, hospital admissions, and increased risk of death. A study conducted three years ago estimated that tens of thousands of Americans are dying prematurely each year because of our failure to clean up these facilities.

EPA policy should be based on protecting public health, not bolstering industry profits.”

The EPA rationalized the changes by insisting that the established NSR rules limited the efficiency of plants, and kept plants from upgrading to more modern, pollution-controlled equipment. Unfortunately, the General Accounting Office didn’t buy that rationale — Waste News reports that a GAO report concluded that the EPA “lacked comprehensive data and relied on anecdotal evidence from industries in reaching its decision to reform the New Source Review portion of the Clean Air Act.” Ouch.

No wonder the ALA is, er, fuming. If the administration wants to write the Lung Association as a special interest group, the agency is still going to have to answer to the heads of several states’ environmental enforcement agencies — most likely in court. Newsday reports that Pennsylvania’s Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen A. McGinty has vowed to target=”new”> pursue legal action against the federal agency’s decision, and her department’s spokesman said that “Pennsylvania would likely join in a multistate court challenge of the new rule once it is published in the Federal Register.” Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal agreed to do the same, Georgina Gustin of Connecticut’s The Day reports, and he’s just as incensed as the Lung Association:

“‘The question is whether the changes to plants that were previously regarded as enlargements will now be simply defined as routine maintenance,’ Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said Tuesday. ‘That’s exactly what the administration is proposing to do. In our view, the administration cannot repeal the Clean Air Act by dictatorial, administrative edict. Rolling back the standard is a surrender to special interest groups and sends a message: Northeast, drop dead.'”

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