Air pollution rules

Friday, January 9th 2004, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Bush administration aggressively will pursue eight Clinton-era clean air lawsuits against utilities, even as it fights in court to overhaul the rules by which those lawsuits were brought, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency said Friday.

``We will go forward with all of the filed cases,'' EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. But in prepared remarks to a utility industry group he characterized the litigation as being in a ``hopeless stalemate.''

A federal appeals court last month temporarily blocked some of the administration's changes to the air pollution program, saying that a lawsuit by states challenging the changes had a ``likelihood of success.''

Despite the legal setback, Leavitt said he would pursue both the enforcement actions against utilities and the legal fight over the rules changes.

``We'll be enforcing the law, and there'll be new enforcement actions ... guided by a myriad of different factors, available resources, and our desired environmental outcome, which has always been to clean up dirty power plants,'' Leavitt told the AP.

In prepared remarks to the Edison Electric Institute, the utility trade group, Leavitt said the litigation should not keep utilities from cleaning up their coal-burning power plants.

``Dirty power plants need to be cleaned up now, not a decade from now. And here's the reality: the power plants that are caught up in this hopeless stalemate of new source review enforcement actions will have to be cleaned up under the interstate air pollution quality rule anyway,'' he said.

The interstate air pollution requirements were proposed by the Bush administration last month. They would cut smog and soot-forming chemicals from power plants with the aim of reducing pollution that often travels long distances across many states.

In part, they are designed to replace regulations under a provision of the Clean Air Act, known as ``new source review,'' that makes it easier for utilities, refineries and other industrial facilities to make improvements and expand operations without installing additional pollution controls.

The Clinton-era lawsuits were filed to addresses abuses in that program.

``If we clean up the offending power plants, the new source review issues go away,'' Leavitt said.

The Bush EPA proposal would cap emissions of acid rain-causing sulfur dioxide and smog-causing nitrogen oxide from hundreds of power plants in 30 states, most of them east of the Mississippi River. It includes a pollution trading system to allow states, utilities and companies to trade pollution allowances if overall caps are maintained.

Leavitt called the proposal ``the biggest investment in the air quality improvement in the nation's history'' and estimated it would cost industry $50 billion over a decade to comply. The result, he said, would be a reduction of nearly 70 percent in sulfur pollution and 40 percent in the smog-causing chemical.

Bill Becker, who heads a group for state and local air pollution control officials, said the administration is trying to have it both ways.

``It is very difficult to pursue the enforcement of existing lawsuits with rules that EPA no longer supports. While the agency says they're going to pursue these lawsuits, their heart has led them into a totally different direction, and one that provides huge loopholes in the enforcement of that program,'' he said.

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