In a letter issued today, 40 public interest groups asked Gregg Cooke, EPA Administrator for Region VI, for proof that Administration and EPA plans to gut the New Source Review (NSR) provisions of the Clean Air Act will not leave citizens breathing dirtier air that causes asthma and other respiratory problems, heart attacks, birth defects and premature deaths.
"Region VI has many areas that still fail to meet health-based standards," said Nathalie Walker, managing attorney of the New Orleans office of Earthjustice. "The Bush Administration's plans to gut the New Source Review program, the core health protections of the Act, will only lead to dirtier air and more sick people. Bush should not be allowed to return campaign favors to the energy industry at the expense of the health of Louisiana residents."
When Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1970, it required new industrial plants to install modern pollution controls to reduce harmful emissions. Existing plants were required to install such pollution controls at the time they made investments to modify those plants. For years, older plants have illegally avoided installing pollution controls when they made modifications. Under the guise of "reform," industry is now lobbying the Bush Administration to eliminate the requirement for such pollution controls.
"All of our research indicates that Administration and EPA plans to 'reform' the NSR program will actually gut the program and lead to greater pollution and more public health problems," said Monique Harden, Staff Attorney at Earthjustice. "Under one of the Administration proposals, industrial facilities like refineries would not be required to install pollution controls when they modify their facilities unless the modifications caused the facility to emit more pollution than it emitted during the dirtiest of its last 10 years of operation. Obviously, this takes us back to dirtier, rather than cleaner, air."
"Areas like Baton Rouge are already struggling to find a way to meet health-based standards. EPA Region VI has an obligation to work with the Baton Rouge area to craft a plan to ensure that this area comes into compliance with health-based standards. If the Bush proposal is adopted and industry is allowed to significantly increase emissions, it is unlikely that Baton Rouge will come into compliance with the Clean Air Act," said Harden.
Public interest groups, therefore, have asked Administrator Cooke to commit to the public that he will not support any changes to NSR that would leave the air dirtier than under current NSR rules. "We have asked Mr. Cooke to answer questions and provide copies of any studies regarding the effect of the Administration's proposed 'reforms' on air quality in Region VI. We believe the public has a right to know just how dirty Bush's proposed 'reforms' will make our air," said Walker.
Nathalie Walker & Monique Harden, Earthjustice, 504/522-1394
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