The Bush administration yesterday formally issued major changes to clean-air rules for utilities, refineries and manufacturers, prompting a legal challenge from a coalition of New England and mid-Atlantic states.
“We think what they are doing is contrary to the Clean Air Act, and it is fundamentally injurious to the American public,” said Eliot Spitzer, New York’s attorney general.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s easing of certain requirements of the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review program was being published in the Federal Register. The program affects whether expensive, new anti-pollution equipment must be installed when industrial facilities are modernized.
EPA spokesman Joe Martyak said that “what we went final with, we feel will be a positive for the environment.”
EPA Administrator Christie Whitman has said the new rules would encourage emissions reductions by giving utilities and refinery operators more flexibility. The old program, she said, “deterred companies from implementing projects that would increase energy efficiency and decrease air pollution.”
But Mr. Spitzer said the new rules would contribute to thousands more cases of asthma and other respiratory ailments. He and his counterparts in at least seven other states say they are harmed by smog and acid rain from the nitrogen-oxide and sulfur-dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants .
They planned to file a lawsuit yesterday at the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia. Mr. Spitzer said New York would be joined by Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont in the lawsuit, with Maryland also expected to petition the appeals court to review the new rule.
Mr. Spitzer’s office said the lawsuit focuses on four elements of the new rules, affecting new technology, a new emissions test, a revised approach for calculating emissions levels and a cap on pollution levels set according to entire plants rather than specific components being upgraded.
Mr. Spitzer said publication of the rules on New Year’s Eve, when the public’s attention is diverted, is further evidence that the administration “continues to try to hide its domestic agenda under the cloak of darkness.”
Mr. Martyak countered that the grounds for the lawsuit were unclear and that the state attorney generals could reap political gains from the lawsuit.
“There are those who would reach the conclusion that this appears to be more of a political step than based on other reasons,” he said.
Environmental groups also planned to join in the legal challenge to the administration.
“Our argument is ultimately going to be that these are illegal changes to the Clean Air Act and the EPA has gone beyond its authority in granting loopholes to smokestack industries,” said Frank O’Donnell, executive director of the Clean Air Trust, an environmental advocacy group.