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Inhofe pushes for exceptions to Clean Air Act rules

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- In 1998, Oklahoma City was cited for clean air violations by the Environmental Protection Agency because of wildfires in Mexico.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe said that's the perfect example of why there should be exceptions to the federal Clean Air Act when natural disasters cause air pollution to rise above accepted levels.

He made that argument during a Monday hearing between state and federal officials at Oklahoma City Community College on how and why exemptions should take place.

Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, has been conducting hearings across the country as Congress prepares to consider reauthorizing the Clean Air Act.

Inhofe said he thinks the EPA agrees with him on the issue, but the problem arises concerning the process EPA uses to make determinations and to grant waivers.

Inhofe said he will introduce a bill requiring the EPA, if asked by a governor, to disregard monitoring data if that information has been influenced by exceptional events such as fires.

Mark Coleman, executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, said waivers should have been granted to Oklahoma City in the case of the Mexican fires and instances of other unusual weather patterns.

John Seitz, the EPA's director of air quality planning and standards office, said several days were waived for Oklahoma during the Mexican fires and that the EPA uses different sources of data before making a final decision on waivers.

"My point would be its not a state decision, not an EPA decision, but a matter of process," he said.

State officials also contend they should not be punished for excessive hot days that cause violations, mostly in summer -- a problem which has plagued Tulsa the past few years.

Seitz said areas near Tulsa -- including Springfield, Mo., Wichita, Kan., and Oklahoma City -- have had just as many high-heat days but fewer ozone violations.


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