EPA puts off power plant pollution rules until fall

August 14, 2001 — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christie Whitman announced today that EPA will delay an expected rule that would have a big impact on power plant air emissions.

Whitman said EPA is delaying the rule so that it can incorporate its findings on the New Source Review (NSR) program into a comprehensive air pollution strategy which will be released in September.

“Our top priority is protecting public health and the environment, and we are in the final stages of developing a comprehensive strategy that will allow us to take the next step forward into a new generation of air pollution controls for the 21st century,” Whitman said. “This fall, we will put forward an ambitious proposal that will reduce air pollution from power plants significantly more than the existing system. Subsequently, we will release the NSR report called for by the National Energy Policy.”

EPA and the White House are working to finalize the details of a legislative proposal that will set strict limits on utility emissions of the three major air pollutants that affect public health – nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and mercury – through the use of a market-based approach.

In addition, the air pollution reduction strategy will address concerns about the NSR program’s effect on energy efficiency and capacity.

The administration’s proposal will maintain stringent health-based standards and establish firm, mandatory caps on levels of pollution, while providing industry with the flexibility to find the most cost-effective means of meeting those standards. This approach would also significantly reduce the administrative burden on state and federal environmental agencies, allowing them to devote limited resources to other programs.

As part of the strategy, the administration’s legislative proposals concerning power plants will benefit from the Clean Air Act’s acid rain “cap and trade” program, which is widely recognized as the most successful air pollution control program in the world. With a 100 percent industry rate of compliance and extraordinarily low administrative costs, this program has eliminated more air pollution, more cost-effectively, in the last decade than all other programs combined.

This basic approach to reducing air pollution while simultaneously reducing regulatory burdens was strongly endorsed by the nation’s governors at last week’s meeting of the bipartisan National Governor’s Association in Rhode Island. At that meeting, the governors unanimously adopted a National Energy Policy that called upon Congress to establish a flexible, market-based program, such as emissions-trading credits, to combat air pollution.

The NGA Policy also called for reform of the New Source Review program “to achieve improvements that enhance the environment and increase energy production capacity….”

“This bipartisan action by the nation’s governors provides a firm foundation for consensus and action this fall on this major environmental goal of the Administration,” said Administrator Whitman. “We are developing a comprehensive approach to improving our efforts to control air pollution, to achieve significant reductions in air pollution while simultaneously streamlining the regulatory process so it works better – achieving real reductions and full industry compliance at far less cost.”

“As we develop a new strategy to more effectively reduce air pollution, we will also evaluate the extent to which existing regulations may need to be modernized. Our review of the NSR regulation is part of our larger effort to craft a new, comprehensive strategy to combat air pollution, and I am not prepared to come to any conclusions about one isolated issue before we finish work on our entire proposal.”

In accordance with the president’s energy plan, EPA and other federal agencies have been reviewing the NSR program since May to determine its impact on investment in new electricity generation and refinery capacity, energy efficiency and environmental protection. That review will be finalized and released this fall as an element of a comprehensive strategy to reduce air pollution.

The NSR program requires utilities and other industries to install pollution controls when a new facility is built, or when an existing facility makes changes that significantly increase emissions.

EPA initiated its review of the NSR program in response to a recommendation from the president’s National Energy Policy Development Group, which also recommended that the Department of Justice (DOJ) conduct an independent review of existing NSR enforcement actions to ensure that they are consistent with the Clean Air Act. Administrator Whitman and Attorney General John Ashcroft have previously announced that they will continue to pursue these enforcement actions vigorously during the DOJ review.

During EPA’s review of the NSR program, the Agency met with more than 100 groups, held four public meetings and received more than 130,000 written comments from the public. Those comments are being evaluated as part of the process of improving the NSR program and developing the president’s legislative proposal. EPA also will use the extensive public comments to determine whether additional improvements to the NSR program are needed.

EPA’s work on the NSR review will continue and will be a component of the agency’s larger effort at crafting a comprehensive air pollution reduction strategy, said Whitman.

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