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13 States Target New Clean Air Act Rules

October 28, 2003|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Lawsuits filed Monday by 13 states and more than 20 cities, which seek to block changes to the Clean Air Act, contend new rules from the Bush administration would weaken protections for the environment and public health.

The Environmental Protection Agency regulations would make it easier to upgrade utilities, refineries and other industrial facilities without installing additional pollution controls.

The rules, proposed in December and signed by the EPA's administrator in August, were made final Monday. They take effect in two months, and states have up to three years to comply.

The agency said in a statement it does not believe the rules will result in significant changes in emissions, and it "preserves the public health protections" under law.

Attorneys general for 12 states -- New York, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin -- and legal officers for New York City, Washington, San Francisco, as well as New Haven and a host of other cities in Connecticut, complained that the regulations will weaken protections for the environment and public health that Congress put into the law.

Illinois filed a separate but similar claim, and other states, including California, are considering legal action.

The suits argue that only Congress can make sweeping changes to such a bedrock law.

"We are not going to sit by quietly and allow the energy interests in this country to receive special treatment while so many of our children and elderly are needlessly suffering from respiratory problems that are, in essence, brought on by bad environmental policy," Massachusetts Atty. Gen. Tom Reilly said.

The rules broaden the EPA's interpretation of routine maintenance for older plants. Before the rule change, operators who did anything more than routine maintenance were required to add more pollution-cutting devices. Under the new rules, industrial facilities avoid paying for emissions-cutting devices if the cost of improvements totals less than 20% of the plant's value.

New York Atty. Gen. Eliot Spitzer called the change an attack on the Clean Air Act. "The president is taking the nation in the wrong direction on environmental policy," Spitzer said.

Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a group of power companies that supports the change, argued that the change would clarify regulations and that "no litigation from the Northeast attorneys general can produce anything but confusion."

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