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Myths and Facts about the Bush Administration's Clean Air Rollback

David McIntosh
Natural Resources Defense Council
August 26, 2003

On Wednesday the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to finalize a final rule adopting a gaping new exemption under the Clean Air Act's New Source Review (NSR) Program. This exemption will allow approximately 17,000 industrial facilities across the country to dramatically increase their pollution levels. The NSR program was established in the 1977 Clean Air Act Amendments to require existing industrial facilities - including aging "grandfathered" plants - to install modern pollution controls when they upgrade their plants and pollute more. There are tens of thousands of aging industrial facilities around the country that are more than two decades old.

Myth: The new rules will mean efficient energy is delivered to Americans, and public health is not at risk.
Fact: The new rules are the biggest blow to the Clean Air Act since its enactment. Despite the enormous impact of this rule change on public health, the EPA has never released data to demonstrate that the weakening rule changes will not allow pollution to increase at facilities around the country. Senators Jeffords and Lieberman have repeatedly requested this information but EPA has refused to produce any analysis. NRDC recently assessed the impact of the rule changes on 3 major polluting power plants and found that actions that are illegal today will be legalized under the new rule, allowing the three plants to emit 400,000 tons more pollution than the Clean Air Act allows each year. The Bush Administration has not challenged this claim or the statement that the rules will allow more pollution. They simply change the subject, talking about efficiency instead of emissions. Improvements in the efficiency of industrial plants do not equate with reductions in pollution. In fact, under the old rules, so-called efficiency improvements do not trigger any NSR control requirements unless emissions increase.

Myth: The new rules will ensure reliability of energy delivery.
Fact: According to a General Accounting Office report issued August 26,(GAO 03-947), the EPA relied on anecdotal evidence from four industries to justify changes to the NSR program. The report clearly reveals that the Administration lacked hard data to show that rule changes were needed to improve energy efficiency or reliability. The real motive behind the rule changes appears to be industry influence and money. In early 2000, after contributing millions of dollars to the Bush campaign in the 2000 election cycle, the companies subject to EPA's violation notices enjoyed extraordinary access to Vice President Cheney and the other White House officials charged with writing the administration's energy plan. In their communications with these officials, the NSR violators and other companies urged the administration to weaken the rules to exempt the activities that polluters had been undertaking without regard for the Clean Air Act's pollution control requirements. (see attachment)

Myth: The rule changes will help avoid blackouts.
Fact: The Bush Administration rule changes directly benefit Ohio Edison, one of the companies implicated in the recent blackouts. The Justice Department recently prosecuted Ohio Edison for the same air pollution violations that this rule change would legalize. The case was a landmark victory. Now the Bush Administration is legalizing this very behavior. NRDC's analysis shows that 10 of the 11 Ohio Edison pollution violations would be legal under the new NSR rules. Ohio Edison and other big polluters would be allowed to skirt the law, put public health at risk, and avoid hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties and plant upgrades. What's more, blackouts have been linked to failures in the energy delivery system which is not regulated by the NSR provisions. There is no indication that clean air protections had anything to do with the blackout. The administration is exploiting the blackout to divert attention from its attack on the Clean Air Act.

Myth: When coupled with the Bush Administration's Clear Skies Initiative, the rule changes will benefit public health and the environment.
Fact: The Clear Skies Initiative is languishing in Congress and will be moribund now that power plants were granted such a sweeping regulatory rollback. NRDC opposes the Initiative because it would result in more pollution than would be allowed if the Clean Air Act were simply enforced. Nonetheless, even if passed, it only covers the nation's 1,500 power plant s. The Administration's new rule changes affect 15,500 industrial plants such as chemical plants, and manufacturing and refinery facilities. None of these plants are facing new pollution reduction requirements in congress. In addition, the Clear Skies Initiative does not address toxic air pollution (volatile organic compounds) that is covered under the NSR program.

David McIntosh
Natural Resources Defense Council
 
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