The US Environmental Protection Agency approved regulations yesterday that violate a key provision of the Clean Air Act. The agency’s action will prolong and increase the public’s exposure to hazardous air pollutants — chemicals such as dioxins, mercury, and PCBs that, even in minute quantities, can cause cancer, birth defects, reproductive disorders, and other similarly devastating diseases. “Once again the Bush administration is paying back its friends at the expense of public health,” said James Pew of Earthjustice.
In 1990 Congress amended the Clean Air Act, requiring EPA to set standards for every category of industrial facility that emits major amounts of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) — ten tons per year of any single HAP or 25 tons per year of any combination. Although the Act gave EPA ten years (from 1990 until 2000) to do so, the agency has done only half the job. Hundreds of major sources in more than 80 categories remain uncontrolled.
“Contrary to the Clean Air Act, the Bush administration has delayed the date by which toxic air pollution will be cleaned up at many facilities,” said Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA). “With this delay, more Americans will breathe toxic air pollution for a longer period of time.”
Frustrated by the habitual disregard by EPA’s air program for statutory deadlines, Congress also enacted a backstop provision known as the ‘hammer.’ The hammer (42 U.S.C. § 7412(j)) provides that if EPA misses a statutory deadline for hazardous air pollutant regulations by more than 18 months, industrial facilities and state agencies must pick up the slack. Specifically, each facility in each industrial category for which EPA’s emissions standards are overdue must apply for a state permit. State agencies must then set emissions standards equivalent to those the agency should have set, on a case-by-case basis. Any facility that continues operating without having submitted a complete application for a hammer permit by the deadline is in violation of the Clean Air Act and subject to enforcement actions.
Because EPA’s regulations were due by November 15, 2000, the hammer deadline is May 14, 2002. Unwilling to act even by that date, EPA simply extended the deadline by two years.
“This extension hurts all Americans and rewards the Bush administration’s industrial backers,” said Marti Sinclair, chair of Sierra Club’s air committee. Here in Ohio, you can see, smell and taste the air pollution in many neighborhoods — and the people in those neighborhoods are not happy or healthy. But every year that the polluters don’t have to clean up is money in their pockets.”