The Navajo Nation plans to earn $50 million annually by building a coal-fired power plant on its New Mexico reservation. But its plans hit a snag earlier this week, when the Environmental Protection Agency, citing air pollution concerns, moved to revoke a Bush administration permit and block the project.
Similar “green” reversals have grown commonplace at EPA, where Administrator Lisa Jackson has systematically upended the agency’s pro-industry tendencies of the past eight years. She has replaced them with decisions that strongly favor environmentalists, a trend that is likely to accelerate as she undertakes a top-to-bottom agency review.
“There’s been an unequivocal change in the EPA between the two administrations,” said Brad Johnson, an energy researcher at the left-leaning Center for American Progress.
Bryan Mignone, a climate and energy specialist at the Brookings Institution, agrees. “The EPA is taking a much more aggressive stance toward regulating on the environmental front,” he said.
The abrupt change started immediately after President Obama took office. In February, Mrs. Jackson canceled a Bush-era decision that denied requests by California and other states to impose strict emissions limits on automobiles.
Two weeks ago, Mrs. Jackson classified carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as harmful pollutants, ending what environmental groups considered foot-dragging by the Bush administration. The so-called endangerment finding allows the agency to impose limits on greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks and, potentially, electricity plants and industrial polluters.
And there’s more. At the behest of Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Sierra Club, the agency reversed rules that had allowed “fine particle” smog and soot to be pumped into the atmosphere by industries, mines and farmers.
It also has proposed greenhouse gas reporting mandates on large industrial plants and fuel suppliers, tougher emissions limits on coastal shippers and new limits on cement factory air pollution.
The agency defended its actions.
“EPA still has work to do when it comes to ensuring Americans are breathing clean air where they live, work, play and learn,” a spokesman said by e-mail. “Going forward, Americans should expect [Mrs. Jackson] to continue to be vigilant in addressing air quality issues, with science and the law as her guideposts.”
The agency’s latest actions on the Navajo project repudiated rulings reached by EPA in July, and the agency acknowledged that more reversals are likely soon. In a filing with EPA’s appeals board, an agency official wrote that Mrs. Jackson is reconsidering “many of the agency’s policies under the Clean Air Act and other statutes.”
The move was a major victory for environmental groups, including the NRDC, and was a setback for the Navajos.
Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. said EPA went back on its promises and appeared to be changing the permitting rules for the 1,500-megawatt plant without using proper procedures.
“EPA sends the unmistakable message that it will hold facilities on Navajo land to standards that may well be impossible to meet - and one that wouldn’t be applicable elsewhere,” he said in a statement.
John Walke, the clean air director at NRDC, sees the Navajo reconsideration as part of a larger effort by EPA to undo Bush administration policies quickly while preparing for the slower process of putting Mr. Obama’s priorities into the books.