Bush Administration Recommends Rollback of Clean Air Act

Administration weakens regulations governing power plant and refinery air pollution.


Suzanne Carrier,Earthjustice, 202.236.5855


Sandra Schubert, Earthjustice, 202-329-1554

Today the Bush administration announced changes to the Clean Air Act permitting a program known as New Source Review that will substantially weaken air quality protection throughout the nation. New Source Review is the Clean Air Act program that requires over 17,000 of the dirtiest and oldest industrial facilities, including oil refineries and power plants, to reduce their emissions. This new proposal sharply contrasts with Bush administration pledges to support strong air quality protections. The administration made this decision despite overwhelming support for New Source Review from the public and the states.

“The administration has dropped a dirty bomb of its own, and it’s going to cost thousands of American lives,” said Buck Parker, executive director of Earthjustice. “The report and the recommendations provide a road map for avoiding pollution controls.”

“In rolling back this important public health safeguard, the administration is ignoring its own June 2001 report that found that NSR does not hinder energy production, capacity or development,” said Parker. “Today’s action will result in an increase in respiratory illness, premature deaths, cancer, and acid rain.”

In the 1970 Clean Air Act, Congress required that new facilities, as well as existing facilities making major modifications that result in significant pollution increases, install modern pollution control equipment. This program, updated and strengthened in 1977 and 1990, is now called New Source Review (NSR). This program is crucial for preventing further deterioration of air quality.

Industry lobbyists and law firms have unsuccessfully tried to gut the NSR program in Congress and the courts, while the industrial facilities they represent have continued to violate the law for 30 years.

“The debate boils down to this: powerful industries do not want to install modern pollution control equipment,” said Parker. “However, health studies demonstrate that such equipment, as required by NSR, could prevent thousands of premature deaths and asthma attacks each year. This is about real people, real lives, real deaths. NSR was meant to protect the health of all Americans, including those who live in poor communities surrounded by industrial facilities that are the worst polluters in the United States. The Bush administration’s proposal is a death sentence for these communities.”

The administration’s proposed changes expand exceptions to New Source Review requirements and allow pollution to increase. They include loopholes that:

· allow facilities to increase pollution with no regard for the attendant health and environmental consequences;

· permit a facility to increase its emissions as long as it does not emit more than it did during the dirtiest two years out of the previous ten years, thereby enshrining a facility’s worst emissions as the status quo; and

· allow a facility that did a pollution control upgrade to pollute unabated for 15 years following that upgrade.

The pollution emitted by these industrial facilities contains known human carcinogens such as dioxin and benzene and respiratory irritants such as 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. Concerned citizens already have submitted more than 130,000 public comments and have spoken at four public hearings in support of NSR.

The NSR 90 Day Review Background Paper, prepared last June for President Bush’s National Energy Policy Development group, concludes that, with respect to investment in new utility and refinery generation, it is consumer demand and deregulation that have deterred investments in the energy sector. Nowhere is the NSR program mentioned as a factor. Moreover, the EPA further found that the length of time required to obtain NSR and other air permits is significantly shorter than claimed by industry and that the costs associated with the NSR program and other pollution controls are a minor and predictable expense. In short, the EPA report completely contradicts the claims by the energy industry that the NSR program has deterred expansion as well as construction of utility and refinery facilities, and is a costly, burdensome program.

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