Ignoring Health Risk, EPA To Allow Air Pollution Increases Nationwide

On August 28th, the Bush administration finalized sweeping exemptions to the Clean Air Act that will allow thousands of power plants and industrial facilities nationwide to increase air pollution by evading long-standing clean air safeguards. The final rules categorically declare as "routine" changes at industrial facilities involving millions of dollars in equipment replacement and leading to substantially higher levels of air pollution. The action constitutes one of the most far-reaching anti-clean air measures in the history of the Clean Air Act. The facilities affected include thousands of power plants, refineries, pulp and paper mills, chemical plants, and other industrial facilities.

"Today's action will result in more harmful air pollution in our neighborhoods and communities, more harmful air pollution for our families and children, and less accountability for some of the biggest polluters in America," said Environmental Defense senior attorney Vickie Patton. "The Bush administration is systematically dismantling vital, cost-effective clean air measures that have protected American families from the harmful effects of industrial air pollution for a quarter century."

EPA's final action comes immediately after an August 25, 2003 General Accounting Office report found that EPA has relied on select, incomplete information provided by major air polluters to justify its rollbacks to the Clean Air Act's new source review program.

"Only a few weeks ago, the EPA's own enforcement actions illustrated how important the law has been in protecting people from harmful air pollution – a federal judge held that Ohio Edison violated the Clean Air Act when it spent over $100 million to rebuild a plant and significantly increase air pollution, all without upgrading its pollution control equipment," said Patton. "The rules being finalized today would make that pollution increase legal, and leave the public with no recourse to protect itself."

Environmental Defense today released an analysis showing that the equipment replacement activities recently held unlawful in EPA's Clean Air Act enforcement case against Ohio Edison would not exceed the new cost thresholds EPA is establishing under today's rule changes. On August 7, 2003, a federal district court judge held that Ohio Edison violated the Clean Air Act by failing to modernize pollution control technology when it made massive changes at the W.H. Sammis power plant in Ohio that led to significant air pollution increases. The total cost of the projects exceeded $100 million and included, for example, a $22 million project at one electric generating unit to replace the economizer, reheating equipment, front ash hopper tubes, low pressure turbine rotors, burners, coal pipes, pulverizers, and combustion controls.

The traditional "new source review" program adopted in the 1977 Clean Air Act amendments has long required old, high-polluting sources such as power plants to prevent pollution increases that would worsen unhealthy air quality in urban centers or adversely impact national parks. Today, the EPA finalized new rules that would broadly exclude existing industrial sources from the long-standing requirement to modernize pollution controls by imposing an arbitrary economic test that would exempt major pollution-increasing activity from clean air protections.

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