EPA chief readying proposed air rule to supplant ‘new source review’

By the OGJ Online Staff

HOUSTON, July 26, 2001 — The Bush administration will propose legislation to replace some existing air pollution rules with a “cap and trade” program similar to the one used to reduce acid rain, EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman said Thursday.

Testifying before the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Whitman said the proposal would set targets to reduce power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx) and mercury.

It would replace existing “new source review” rules under the Clean Air Act, which industry said created uncertainty about enforcement and what was considered permissible maintenance under the rule designed to reduce pollution at old plants.

President George W. Bush ordered a 90-day review of the program as part of his proposed energy policy. The EPA recently held a series of hearings around the country to get input on the program’s effectiveness and possible alternatives.

Whitman said the proposed legislation should be ready this fall. She said targets would be phased in over a “reasonable” time period, similar to the acid rain program established by the 1990 amendments to the Clear Air Act.

She also said the proposal will provide regulatory certainty to allow utilities to modify plants without fear of litigation and will include market-based incentives, such as emissions trading, to help achieve the required reductions in pollution. She declined, however, to reveal preliminary emissions targets being considered by the agency.

California environment officials recommended targeted reductions at hearings in Sacramento, noting the state has successfully reduced air emissions using a best available technology approach.

“If we have new legislation that significantly reduces emissions of SO2, NOx, and mercury, we can eliminate many of the individual programs that apply to the power generation sector and replace them with a system that will reduce the administrative burden on industry and governments, use market-based incentives to keep compliance costs low, and provide industry with more certainty about its future regulatory obligations,” Whitman said.

Environmental groups oppose changes in the new source review rules. They said it is the only way to force old polluting power plants that were originally grandfathered under the Clean Air Act because they were expected to shut down to be finally taken out of service.

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