Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Fighting Dirty

From the Washington Post:

The Bush administration has drafted regulations that would ease pollution controls on older, dirtier power plants and could allow those that modernize to emit more pollution, rather than less.

The language could undercut dozens of pending state and federal lawsuits aimed at forcing coal-fired plants to cut back emissions of harmful pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, said lawyers who worked on the cases.

The draft rules, obtained by The Washington Post from the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group, contradict the position taken by federal lawyers who have prosecuted polluting facilities in the past, and parallel the industry’s line of defense against those suits. The utilities, and the proposed new rules, take the position that decisions on whether a plant complies with the regulations after modernization should be based on how much pollution it could potentially emit per hour, rather than the current standard of how much it pollutes annually.

Under the new standard, a modernized plant’s total emissions could rise if the upgrade allowed it to operate longer hours. In court filings, the EPA estimated in 2002 that an hourly standard would allow eight plants in five states — including Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia — to generate legally as much as 100,000 tons a year of pollutants that would be illegal under the existing New Source Review rule. That equals about a third of their total emissions.

[…]

Eric Schaeffer, who headed the EPA’s Office of Regulatory Enforcement before resigning in protest in February 2002, said the new rule undermines the original aim of the law, which was to slowly bring older plants into compliance with stricter air laws.

“Under this proposal, it would never happen,” Schaeffer said.

It reminds me of that Tom Lehrer song Pollution from 1965:

Just go out for a breath of air
And you’ll be ready for Medicare
The city streets are really quite a thrill;
If the hoods don’t get you, the monoxide will!