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EPA Proposal Eases Rules on Pollution Controls

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EPA Proposal Eases Rules on Pollution Controls

Environment

EPA Proposal Eases Rules on Pollution Controls

EPA Proposal Eases Rules on Pollution Controls

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The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new rules allowing power plants to upgrade or expand production without installing expensive anti-pollution equipment, as long as the plant does not exceed its current maximum level of hourly emissions. Environmentalists say it abandons one of the central goals of the Clean Air Act.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The business news starts with a change in pollution controls. For a decade now, the Environmental Protection Agency has been using a provision of the Clean Air Act to force dirty, older power plants to clean up. The provision is called News Source Review. But the Bush administration announced yesterday new rules for the program that make it easier for plants to avoid installing pollution controls. NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN reporting:

The proposal would change what triggers the requirement for older power plants to install new pollution controls. Now plants have to clean up if they modify their facilities and increase annual emissions. Under the new policy, the EPA would allow power plants to modernize and increase the pollution they emit over the course of a year as long as they don't exceed hourly pollution limits. This was the most recent in a string of changes the Bush administration has made to the Clean Air Act rules at the request of industry. EPA administrator Steve Johnson also sent a strong message to EPA lawyers to turn their focus away from enforcing New Source Review, also known as NSR. Johnson told them to start using the new rules, even though they haven't been finalized, when they're deciding if a plant violates the law.

Mr. STEVE JOHNSON (EPA Administrator): NSR is not as significant as it was.

SHOGREN: Johnson said his agency now has a better way to reduce overall pollution from power plants.

Mr. JOHNSON: The Clean Air interstate rule will reduce emissions by approximately 70 percent.

SHOGREN: He's talking about a program that sets an overall pollution cap for all power plants in the eastern part of the country and allows companies flexibility in who makes the pollution cuts. The power industry supports that program, but has been fighting New Source Review in the courts.

Mr. JOHNSON: We're going to get more environmental benefits than we would get through enforcement and lengthy litigation, and our focus is on delivering environmental results.

SHOGREN: The country's 1,000 coal-fired power generators are the nation's biggest air polluters. Pollution from them causes chronic and acute respiratory ailments and premature death, and it contributes to global warming. Environmentalists, like John Walke of Natural Resources Defense Council, say the Bush administration is abandoning an essential tool to force those plant to clean up fast.

Mr. JOHN WALKE (Natural Resources Defense Council): The dirty little secret behind the Bush administration's air pollution agenda is to stretch out the time for power plants to clean up over the next two decades and to call that progress while eliminating clean air protections that would require them to clean up today.

SHOGREN: Utility industry representatives support the EPA's actions. They say they will make it easier for power plants to modernize and produce more energy. They also say power plants will have to clean up anyway because of other regulatory requirements. Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

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