- The Washington Times - Friday, March 17, 2006

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A federal appeals court sided with 14 states yesterday and blocked the Environmental Protection Agency from going forward with new regulations activists say would lead to more air pollution from the nation’s power plants and factories.

The new rules would have allowed older power plants, refineries and factories to modernize without having to install the most advanced pollution controls. The EPA has disputed claims that the changes would increase pollution.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington ruled that the EPA’s changes violated the language of the federal Clean Air Act, and that any such change can be authorized only by Congress. Fourteen states and a number of cities, including New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., sued to block the change in 2003.

“This is an enormous victory for clean air and for the enforcement of the law and an overwhelming rejection of the Bush administration’s efforts to gut the law,” said New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who led the suit for the states. “It is a rejection of a flawed policy.”

Peter Lehner, Mr. Spitzer’s top environmental lawyer, said the decision applies to about 800 power plants and up to 17,000 factories nationwide.

Under the Clean Air Act, operators who do anything more than routine maintenance are required to add more pollution-cutting devices. Under the proposed change, industrial facilities could have avoided paying for expensive emissions-cutting devices if they spent less than 20 percent of the plant’s value, Mr. Lehner said.

The rule had been blocked from going into effect since December 2003, when the same court issued a stay.

“We are disappointed that the court did not find in favor of the United States,” said EPA spokesman John Millett. “We are reviewing and analyzing the opinion and cannot comment further at this time.”

Industry groups have contended that the Clean Air Act, as now written, discourages plant operators from modernizing their equipment. They said yesterday’s decision would do little to help air quality.

“The decision is a step backward in the protection of air quality in the United States,” said Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a Washington-based group representing severa power-generating companies. “What is it the environmental community thinks they’ve won? They’ve won the ability to place roadblocks in front of energy-efficiency projects. This is terrible news.”

The lawsuit was filed by New York, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin.

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