Earthjustice called the Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement yesterday that it is in secret, closed-door negotiations with diesel engine manufacturers “just another instance of this administration using backroom settlement deals with industry to undermine the interests of the American people.” The subject of the negotiations is a key air pollution regulation that both EPA and the President last year claimed to support. EPA made its announcement in an “emergency” motion to the federal appeals court that is scheduled to hear argument next Tuesday in industry lawsuits challenging the regulation.
“The attempt to cut a closed-door deal with industry on a key public health regulation EPA and the President have repeatedly claimed to support is part of a disturbing pattern: the administration praises key environmental regulations, then turns around and uses industry lawsuits as an excuse to seek weakening of those very same protections,” said Howard Fox of Earthjustice, attorney for several public health and environmental organizations who have opposed industry’s claims by intervening in the suits. “They claim to love this regulation, but unfortunately their motto seems to be ‘you always hurt the one you love.’ Rollback of this key public health initiative would be a tragedy for hundreds of thousands of Americans whose lives and health are damaged by pollution from diesel trucks and buses.”
At issue is a January 2001 regulation requiring cleanup of pollution from heavy-duty diesel trucks and buses, starting in 2007. After reviewing this initiative of the previous administration, the new administration repeatedly expressed support for it:
- EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman announced in February 2001 that EPA was giving “the green light” to the rule, stating: “The Bush Administration determined that this action not be delayed in order to protect public health and the environment. … Once this action is fully implemented, 2.6 million tons of smog-causing nitrogen oxide emissions will be reduced each year. Soot or particulate matter will be reduced by 110,000 tons a year. An estimated 8,300 premature deaths, 5,500 cases of chronic bronchitis and 17,600 cases of acute bronchitis in children will also be prevented annually. It is also estimated to help avoid more than 360,000 asthma attacks and 386,000 cases of respiratory symptoms in asthmatic children every year. In addition, 1.5 million lost work days, 7,100 hospital visits and 2,400 emergency room visits for asthma will be prevented.”
- President Bush in April 2001 noted that his administration is “adopting new, scientifically sensible rules … to clean the air of pollution from on-road diesel engines.”
- As recently as January 18, 2002, EPA filed a brief urging the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to reject industry challenges and affirm the rule.
Yesterday, however, with the scheduled oral argument in the Court only a week away, EPA asked the Court to postpone argument on key provisions of the rule. The regulatory provisions at issue set a new, more accurate method for testing diesel emissions under real-world conditions.
“Stronger pollution regulations won’t help much if engines don’t comply,” said Fox. “In the past, EPA has had to sue engine manufacturers, because the agency found their engines were emitting millions of tons of excess nitrogen oxide emissions. The regulation’s new way of measuring engine emissions will help put an end to these unacceptable practices.”
In yesterday’s motion to the Court, EPA announced that it “is currently engaged in settlement negotiations” with industry on this test method, and that industry and EPA “have made considerable progress towards reaching a comprehensive settlement.” The agency asks the Court to postpone next week’s scheduled argument and put the test-method part of the case on hold. These closed-door settlement talks include not only the January 2001 highway diesel rule (which takes effect in 2007), but also two other rules: a first-phase highway diesel rule (which takes effect in 2004) and a marine diesel engine rule.
Earthjustice is representing American Lung Association, Environmental Defense, Sierra Club, and US Public Interest Research Group, and is working with Natural Resources Defense Council – all of which have intervened in opposition to industry’s lawsuits challenging the January 2001 rule.