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Monday, September 12, 2005

Environment - Star story today about EPA's proposed change in power plant pollution rule

The Indianapolis Star's Tammy Webber has a long story today on the front page of the City & State section, headlined "Dispute rises over potential for pollution: Planned EPA policy change called threat to air quality." The piece is about "a proposed change to federal regulations could allow some older plants to avoid installing anti-pollution scrubbers -- and possibly emit more pollution -- if and when they're modernized.
" Some quotes:

In the past, plants built before the 1970 Clean Air Act were exempted from installing modern pollution controls unless they made improvements beyond routine maintenance. Several utilities, including some in Indiana, were sued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1999 for allegedly making significant changes to their plants but failing to install the scrubbers.

Now, the EPA wants to change its rule in a way that essentially would reflect an argument that utilities have been making in court, according to a draft of the proposed rules leaked to the media late last month.

Under the draft, whether a modernized plant needed scrubbers would be determined by how much pollution it could potentially emit every hour, rather than the current standard of how much it emits annually.

That scenario, environmentalists contend, could allow overall pollution to rise if the improvements allowed a plant to operate longer hours.

"The environment really doesn't care about hourly releases," said Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project and former head of the EPA's Office of Regulatory Enforcement. "What matters is the total increase, how much (pollution) you're bringing into an . . . area." * * *

In court, the EPA had argued against an hourly rate, saying it would increase emissions. But now the agency says a pollution rule signed in March might make its past regulations obsolete.

That rule targeted pollution that drifts from one state to another, requiring deep reductions from coal-fired power plants in 28 states. Under the rule, Indiana by 2015 should see emissions of sulfur dioxide, which contributes to heart- and lung-damaging microscopic particles, drop by 56 percent, and emissions of nitrogen oxides, linked to smog, should drop by 68 percent, according to EPA estimates.

EPA spokeswoman Eryn Witcher said the draft proposal on the hourly emissions will not be finalized for a few weeks and would not discuss specifics.

"But we find we get far better results under (the multi-state rule), and that's the direction we're moving," she said. "We're committed to permanent, significant emissions reductions from power plants."

Witcher would not say whether the EPA might drop its lawsuits against utilities. Some of those companies, including Southern Indiana Gas and Electric, settled the suits by agreeing to install pollution controls.

Ohio-based Cinergy, which has several plants in Indiana, still faces a lawsuit for allegedly failing to upgrade pollution controls. The company has installed many of the pollution controls that the EPA sought in the suits, spokeswoman Angeline Protogere said.

Here is a Washington Post story on this issue from Aug. 31st (via the Seattle Times). Here is a NRCD backgrounder.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 12, 2005 06:59 AM
Posted to Environment