Earthjustice called the Environmental Protection Agency's decision not to release their final New Source Review report to the public the latest attempt by the Bush administration to shroud the energy policy process in secrecy. The agency was ordered to review the New Source Review program and its impact on energy investments as part of President Bush's national energy plan. The report on that review was scheduled for release this Friday. EPA announced today that the report will not be released to the public until after it has been used to create a legislative strategy, expected sometime in September.
"EPA's decision not to release this report should raise a lot of eyebrows," said Nathalie Walker, managing attorney for Earthjustice's New Orleans office. "If this report were based on the facts instead of political motives, then the administration would have nothing to hide."
New Source Review is the Clean Air Act program that protects Americans from excessive pollution from power plants and refineries. NSR, which applies to new facilities as well as existing facilities planning major modifications that result in significant pollution increases, requires power plants and refineries to apply for a permit that requires installation of modern pollution control equipment. This program is crucial for preventing further deterioration of air quality.
"Modern pollution controls have been an important part of the Clean Air Act since it was enacted in 1970," said Sandra Schubert, legislative counsel for Earthjustice. "EPA's NSR background report showed that there is no factual support for rolling back the program. The public was poised to hear if the final report would maintain that message, or if the Bush administration would once again cave to political pressure from its industry contributors. Instead, the American people are being kept out of the loop."
The pollution emitted by these facilities contains known human carcinogens like dioxin and benzene and respiratory irritants like sulfur dioxide. EPA has estimated that 80 percent of oil refineries are in violation of New Source Review and that increased enforcement could prevent thousands of deaths each year. Communities near these facilities, whose residents are predominately African American and Latino, bear a disproportionate burden of toxic pollution. The Bush administration is still considering rolling back the NSR program despite the high public health costs that communities situated next to refineries pay. Concerned citizens already have submitted over 130,000 public comments and spoken at four public hearings in support of NSR.
"There are a lot of unheard voices in this debate," said Walker. "The national energy policy was designed behind closed doors and was filled with handouts to industry. The NSR review process was designed to be public and to respond to community concerns. But now this 'public' process is being taken hostage by the administration. The people living in the shadows of refineries are fighting for their lives while the bureaucrats in Washington are ignoring public health."