Environmental Groups Win Clean-Air Rule Battle

By Published On: December 14, 2003

With relaxed clean-air standards looming, the Environmental Protection Agency indicated this week that it will drop investigations into 50 power plants? past violations of the Clean Air Act. But environmental groups scored a legal victory, forcing tougher pollution rules for new power plants. ?The Bush administration cannot pick and choose which parts of the Clean Air Act it wants to enforce,? said Pat Gallagher, director of environmental law for the Sierra Club. ?Communities deserve strong clean-air protections for all power plants, not just new ones,? he added. The Sierra Club and Our Children?s Earth filed a lawsuit this past February charging that the EPA has failed to update required standards, thus allowing new plants to use outmoded air pollution control technology. According to a November 12 consent decree from the federal district court in Oakland, California, the EPA must develop more stringent pollution limits within two years for new power projects. But the battle over the Clean Air Act?s New Source Review (NSR) rules continues to escalate. Attorneys general and Democratic politicians from the Northeast pushed for an probe of EPA?s decision not to pursue investigations of industrial facilities that were expanded without installing pollution controls. The rules of the game changed with the revisions of the NSR rules, which now do not require scrubbers and other pollution-reduction devices to be installed on facility upgrades that cost less than 20 percent of the unit?s value. California attorney general spokesperson Tom Dresslar said the state is weighing its options on the matter of old NSR violations. The Attorney General?s Office is not sure whether it will follow the example of other state attorneys general and initiate action against industrial facilities alleged to have violated clean-air rules prior to its recent and controversial revision. No power plants are potential defendants in any NSR suit California might bring, Dresslar noted, although other industrial facilities may be.

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