- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 4, 2009

To appreciate the extent to which the Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama is a regulator reborn, consider this: EPA officials have begun to cut air pollution by invoking the Clean Water Act.

Long quiescent under President George W. Bush, the agency is churning out initiatives and regulations at a pace that pleases its friends in the environmental movement and frightens many in the business community.

In the past eight months, the EPA has proposed eight major new regulations for air pollutants that would strengthen the nation’s clean air laws almost overnight. In contrast, in the first eight months of the Bush administration, the agency proposed one small regulation that affected a limited number of polluters.

“The Obama EPA is issuing more significant rule-makings at a much quicker rate than the EPA did in eight years of the Bush administration,” said Roger Martella, who served as the agency’s general counsel under Mr. Bush.

Since February, the EPA has placed 175 surface coal mining projects under review and halted 79 of them because of their effects on surface water. For 30 years, the agency did not object to the air pollution caused when miners blast dirt into the air to expose coal deposits. Now, invoking the Clean Water Act, the agency is moving to block, at least for now, the projects when they sully nearby streams with the same pollutant.

The agency also has, for the first time, revoked a permit for a surface mine because the project in West Virginia could violate the Clean Water Act.

More broadly, the agency has announced there could be a link between greenhouse gas emissions and public health and welfare - a prelude to new mandates for corporations to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. The agency also agreed to allow California to regulate tailpipe emissions, increased fuel efficiency standards for cars for the first time in more than 25 years and won White House approval to rein in greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s largest polluters.

And that’s just the beginning.

The agency’s speed has caught the attention of environmentalists, who applaud the EPA’s new activism, and business executives, who worry about a ballooning bureaucracy.

“The Obama EPA is certainly moving faster than its predecessor to improve environmental safeguards, but I don’t see that the Obama EPA has done anything too hastily,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, an environmental group.

But business groups say the agency has issued major rules that have wide impact without taking the time needed to make sure the repercussions are well understood.

“It’s been really a cookie-cutter approach: Here’s the rule, give us your comments, no extensions, and then the final rule is issued,” said William Kovacs, senior vice president of environment, technology and regulatory affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

And the agency shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, analysts think the agency’s most sweeping and contentious decisions are yet to come.

“A lot of thinking and drafting [of carbon dioxide regulations] had been done under the Bush administration, and the Obama folks have built on that,” said Jeff Holmstead, former assistant administrator of the EPA for air and radiation in the Bush administration.

Within the next six months, the agency is expected to confirm the link between greenhouse gases and public health, issue its proposed 35-mile-per-gallon fuel efficiency standard for cars and spell out how it would force utilities, refineries and manufacturers to pollute less.

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