The GAO report is available in PDF format at http://epw.senate.gov/Releases/GAO_Report_082503.pdf
WASHINGTON, D.C., Aug. 26, 2003 — Senators Jim Jeffords and Joe Lieberman on Aug. 25 announced the release of a report by the General Accounting Office on the Administration’s justification for changes to the New Source Review (NSR) Program.
The report found that the Administration does not collect or possess sufficient data to state authoritatively, as they have claimed, that the NSR program has impeded energy investments or that the changes to the program made earlier this year would be environmentally beneficial.
“This GAO report is just another indicator that the Bush Administration’s continued weakening of the Clean Air Act is unwarranted and unjustified. It exposes the Bush Administration’s ongoing credibility gap. They don’t like to get the facts in the way of their frenzy to rollback important environmental and public health protections,” said Jeffords, the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
“This independent report reinforces what nonpartisan experts have been saying for months — that the Bush Administration’s rollbacks of the Clean Air Act have no analytical basis,” said Lieberman. “Once again the White House is putting politics before public health.”
The Administration has relied primarily on anecdotal information from industry sources in its push to deregulate the electric power industry and exempt other major sources of pollution from triggering NSR, Jeffords and Lieberman said. If NSR is triggered, because a modification will increase pollution beyond the existing annual threshold in regulations, those pollution sources must install the best available control technology or controls with the lowest achievable emission rate.
However, under the rules changes made by the Administration earlier this year, EPA has estimated that up to 50% of existing major sources will be exempt from the requirement to use this kind of advanced pollution control technology.
Later this week, the Administration plans to issue another NSR rule change which will exempt nearly all sources when they make major modifications. This new rule could negate or undermine every one of the existing enforcement actions against 51 power plant units that have illegally avoided complying with the Clean Air Act for decades.
Executive Order 12866 requires agencies to conduct a rigorous cost-benefit analysis of major rules, those with more than $100 million in impact on the economy, the environment, public health, etc.
EPA did not conduct such an analysis on the NSR changes, despite repeated requests for such analysis by Senators Jeffords, Lieberman, Edwards and others, and regardless of internal EPA documents that indicate the health benefits, in terms of premature mortality, of the existing NSR program may exceed $2 billion annually. EPA and OMB told GAO that they used their “professional judgment” in determining that a rigorous analysis was not necessary and that it was not possible, given the lack of data.
In February, Congress approved funds for the National Academy of Sciences to review the public health and environmental impacts of the NSR changes made earlier this year. As of this writing, five months later, EPA had still not transferred those funds to the Academy for this work to be done.