WASHINGTON — The Clinton Administration announced new environmental regulations Tuesday designed to scrub 90% of chemical plants' toxic emissions from the nation's air.
The sweeping new regulations issued by the Environmental Protection Agency require chemical manufacturers to modernize and improve pollution-control efforts over the next three years. The rules also add 112 chemicals to the list of hazardous materials regulated by the federal government under the Clean Air Act.
The EPA estimated that the regulations will reduce acid rain and improve the respiratory health of many Americans by removing 506,000 tons of toxic chemicals from the atmosphere. That's the equivalent of taking 38 million automobiles, one-fourth of the nation's total, off the road.
But the new rules also are expected to exact a price from some 370 chemical manufacturers and their consumers. The EPA said that new measures will cost the chemical industry $530 million a year, raising prices for the average family about $1.50 annually. The Chemical Manufacturers Assn., which expressed support for the rules, said that in addition to those operating costs, the industry probably will have to make almost a billion dollars in capital investments.
EPA Administrator Carol Browner called the new rules "a landmark for public health" that will save lives, prevent cancer and other serious illnesses, increase crop yields and protect forests and fish.
Browner added that the regulations also are intended to improve conditions in many poor and minority communities. Studies have shown that such areas bear a disproportionate share of toxic pollution from manufacturers, especially in states like Louisiana, where petrochemical refineries and processors are concentrated around a large number of African American communities.
Administration officials have said that the new rules will affect chemical manufacturers and their neighborhoods in 38 states. But the greatest impact will be on Louisiana, New Jersey and Texas, they said. California and other states with a smaller concentration of chemical manufacturers and with strict state and local environmental regulations will be less affected by the new rules.
Under the regulations, many chemical manufacturers will have to install new scrubbers, burners and sealing devices on smokestacks and holding tanks and on pumps and nozzles that transfer chemicals from one point to another. One industry official said that the technology is "not rocket science. It's just closing the loops" to prevent the escape of pollutants.
The EPA's rules came after several years of negotiations among environmentalists, chemical manufacturers and federal regulators under two administrations.
In drawing up the new regulations, the Clinton Administration bowed to chemical manufacturers and allowed what it called "emissions averaging" to give companies flexibility. The concept would enable individual chemical manufacturers to make extra reductions in some sources of emissions to offset pollution elsewhere in their plants.