EPA postpones new smog rules on coal-burning power plants

Thursday, January 17th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Environmental Protection Agency is postponing for a year a requirement that scores of coal-burning power plants reduce smog-causing pollution that often drifts from the Midwest and Ohio Valley into the Northeast.

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said in a letter to Congress that litigation over EPA's attempts to reduce Midwest pollution made the delay until May 2004 necessary.

She also said she preferred that the reductions be achieved through a separate EPA clean air initiative that requires states _ not the federal government _ to order the pollution cuts by 2004.

A number of Midwest utilities had requested a postponement of the compliance deadline, originally set for May 2003. An Ohio-based utility, Cinergy, last year told White House officials a yearlong delay could save it $100 million in compliance costs.

The EPA more than a year ago approved a petition by eight northeastern states that the federal government require older coal-burning plants from Pennsylvania to as far west as Indiana reduce the amount of smog-causing emissions from their tall smokestacks.

Ironically, Whitman, then New Jersey's governor, was among those joining in the petitions.

For years, state officials have complained that the pollution, from smokestacks more than 100 feet high across the Midwest and Ohio Valley, is sending smog-causing chemicals into the Northeast, making it more difficult for that region to meet federal air quality requirements.

In approving the petition, the EPA provided a backstop at a time when a second EPA initiative directing individual states to order pollution cuts was being challenged in court and looked as if it was going to be delayed, if not scrapped.

Since then, the order for state action has been upheld with a compliance date of May 2004.

In the letter Whitman wrote Tuesday to 70 members of Congress, she said the EPA remains committed to addressing across-state pollution, but that pursuing two separate tracks with different compliance dates only added to the confusion. So, she decided to merge the two dates.

``EPA strongly supports addressing ozone transport (problems) through state action,'' Whitman wrote.

The letter was made public late Wednesday by the National Environmental Trust.

Philip Clapp, president of the environmental advocacy group, accused the Bush administration of ``bowing to utility lobbyists'' after the courts rejected an industry attempt to delay the requirement. The postponement means 500,000 additional tons of smog-causing pollution in 2003 from the plants, the group said.

But Whitman argued that litigation over the EPA's attempts to impose new requirements on the power plants was already effectively delaying the compliance date beyond the 2003 ozone season, which begins in May.

Environmentalists and Northeast air quality officials contend the utilities already are well along toward meeting the tougher requirements and no extension is needed.