|New EPA CAA Pollution Standard||jrm|
Aug 22, 2003 6:35 AM
|ASHINGTON, Aug. 21 After more than two years of internal deliberation and intense pressure from industry, the Bush administration has settled on a regulation that would allow thousands of older power plants, oil refineries and industrial units to make extensive upgrades without having to install new anti-pollution devices, according to those involved in the deliberations.
The new rule, a draft of which was made available to The New York Times by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, would constitute a sweeping and cost-saving victory for industries, exempting thousands of indus trial plants and refineries from part of the Clean Air Act. The acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency could sign the new rule as soon as next week, administration officials have told utility representatives.
The exemption would let industrial plants continue to emit hundreds of thousands of tons of pollutants into the atmosphere and could save the companies millions, if not billions, of dollars in pollution equipment costs, even if they increase the amounts of pollutants they emit.
The action could also spare Gov. Michael O. Leavitt of Utah, if he is confirmed as the new E.P.A. administrator, from having to make a decision on a highly contentious issue.
The current rule requires plant owners to install pollution-control devices if they undertake anything more than "routine maintenance" on their plants. Industries have long argued that the standard is too vague and hinders substantial investment in cleaner, more efficient equipment.
The new rule says that as much as 20 percent of the cost of replacing a plant's essential production equipment a boiler, generator or turbine could be spent and the owner would still be exempt from installing any pollution controls, according to people involved in the deliberations.
Together, such equipment can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, sometimes more than $1 billion, to replace. A utility or factory could thus make tens of millions of dollars worth of improvements without being required to install pollution controls.
At the end of last year, the administration proposed that the current standards be eased, saying that the threshhold for requiring pollution control devices could be anywhere from nothing to 50 percent of the cost of replacing major equipment. Members of Congress protested that the public could not meaningfully comment on such a range, and 225,000 people objected to the rule before the comment period ended on May 31, according to John Walke of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Only in the last few weeks have officials settled on the 20 percent figure, which had been a closely held secret within the administration. The draft of the new rule, in fact, describes the point at which pollution-control devices must be installed only as "X percent," but officials and several others in contact with those who wrote the rule said that the level was 20 percent, though they warned that the percentage could change before being made final.
Officials said that Marianne Horinko, the acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, would probably sign the rule before Labor Day. It would go into effect shortly thereafter, without further review or public comment.
The only way to stop it would be through court action, which critics of the new rule are threatening.
Eliot Spitzer, the attorney general of New York, said he would file a challenge to the new rule as soon as it was signed.
"A rule that creates a 20 percent threshold eviscerates the statute," he said of the Clean Air Act. "This makes it patently clear that the Bush administration has meant all along to repeal the Clean Air Act by administrative fiat."
Administration officials, including Ms. Horinko, declined to comment. Jarrod Agen, a spokesman for the E.P.A., said that officials could not comment because the matter was still