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New Rules to Ease Emission Guidelines

November 22, 2002|From Reuters

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration will release new rules today to give older coal-fired power plants more leeway to avoid costly maintenance to reduce emissions, congressional sources said Thursday.

The Environmental Protection Agency will release its long-awaited "new source review" guidelines, said Chris Miller, a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee staffer.

EPA spokesman Joe Martyak declined to comment on the timing for the release of the rules.

Existing rules require utilities and refineries to invest in state-of-the-art pollution controls if a plant undergoes a major expansion or modification.

But the Bush administration said in June it planned to relax the rules to make it easier for utilities to perform major modifications to extend the life of aging plants without triggering pollution-reduction requirements.

The proposals, which do not require congressional approval, have provoked protest from environmental groups and some Democrats, who see them as relaxing the Clean Air Act.

"These rollbacks of the Clean Air Act are unacceptable and endanger public health," said Democratic Rep. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts.

Markey called the planned changes "the postelection opening salvo in the Republicans' war on our nation's clean-air and clean-water laws."

Details of the proposal were still fluid Thursday. The rules are expected to widen an exemption for utilities and refineries from installing new pollution devices when they conduct routine maintenance and repairs.

Under the rules, "you can basically do everything but tear the plant down and not trigger the requirements," said Phil Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust.

The rules were awaiting approval from the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The Edison Electric Institute, which represents many large utilities, applauded the change.

The revisions may "remove the perpetual threat of litigation now hanging over the heads of power plant operators facing difficult decisions about whether to proceed with critical maintenance," EEI spokesman Dan Riedinger said.

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