Ignoring Health Risk EPA To Authorize Air Pollution Increases Nationwide

The Bush Administration recently put forward policies that will expose Americans to harmful air pollution by broadly exempting power plants and industrial facilities nationwide from long-standing federal air pollution control measures. The new policies will gut a Clean Air Act program that has been instrumental in protecting the health of Americans and local air quality for 25 years. The air quality protections under the "new source review" program have historically required power plants, refineries, steel mills, chemical plants and other large industrial sources that lack modern pollution control systems to update their pollution reduction technology when they take action that significantly increases air pollution.

" Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is stripping away vital, cost-effective clean air measures that have protected Americans from the harmful effects of industrial air pollution for a quarter century, " said Environmental Defense senior attorney Vickie Patton. "Today's action puts Americans in communities across the country at serious health risk by exempting thousands of power plants, refineries and other major industrial facilities from fundamental air pollution controls."

EPA data indicates that even without today's rollbacks, large pollution sources such as power plants release about 11.4 million tons of harmful sulfur dioxide and 5.2 million tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxides each year, comprising 62% and 21% of the national totals for these contaminants.

"Medical research documents that current air pollution levels from power plants have serious effects on people's hearts and lungs. Given this body of information, we should be strengthening programs that protect the public's health, not undercutting them," said Dr. John Balbus, director of the Environmental Defense health program.

The traditional "new source review" program adopted in the 1977 Clean Air Act amendments has long required old, high-polluting sources to prevent pollution increases that would worsen unhealthy air quality in urban centers or adversely impact national parks. The administration's initiative, by contrast, is comprised of two broad actions that will allow virtually all pollution increases from old, high-polluting sources to go unregulated. The EPA has finalized and significantly expanded a 1996 rulemaking proposal that was initially estimated to provide exemptions for 50% of the industrial sources covered by the program. EPA has simultaneously proposed more far-reaching changes that, when implemented, will broadly exclude existing industrial sources from the long-standing requirement to modernize pollution controls when taking action that significantly increases pollution.

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