EPA secretly reforming air pollution laws, complain state and local officials

By the OGJ Online Staff

HOUSTON, Jan. 23, 2002 — The Bush Administration is proposing reforms to the New Source Review clean air rules that were developed behind closed doors and will increase pollution, say state and local environmental officials.

The State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators (STAPPA) and the Association of Local Air Pollution Control Officials (ALAPCO) wrote a letter to US Environmental Protection Agency administrator Christine Todd Whitman warning the agency reforms being contemplated will “substantially weaken the environmental protections offered by the NSR program.”

The associations, which have supported reforms to the New Source Review provisions of the Clean Air Act, complained they had been excluded from all meetings and had no formal details about what the Bush Administration is proposing.

Last summer trade organizations and others discussed reforming the NSR program with the EPA. “These discussions ceased and did not resume,” the officials said. “Within the last several weeks, STAPPA and ALAPCO have learned than the reform effort has been proceeding without our participation.”

Based on informal sources, the organizations said they believe the proposed reforms would permit routine maintenance at power plants and refineries to be done without triggering a NSR, if it passes an investment test based on the cost of the modification as a percentage of the facility’s replacement.

“The reform places no restrictions on the level of air pollution that will be caused by the change,” the letter said.

The environmental officials said it appears that modifications valued up to 8% of the replacement value of refineries and 5% of electric utilities would be allowed without any requirements to reduce emissions. Also, the reforms would allow any kind of replacement of “like kind” no matter how much more air pollution resulted, they said.

Finally, the reforms would revise the criteria for modifications that trigger a NSR. Currently, a review is triggered by comparing a source’s base line emissions from the past 2 years with the potential emissions from the modifications. Under the proposal EPA is considering, it appears a facility would be allowed to pick any 2-year period over the past 10 years to use as its emissions base line, they said.

The environmental officials said the changes being contemplated not only exceed they have asked for but are “beyond what the industry requested during the stakeholder negotiations.” They asked the EPA administrator to provide factual details on the reforms and to convene a “broad stakeholder meeting to allow for an open dialogue on the reforms under consideration.”

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