EPA schedules hearings on Clean Air Act's new source review rule


By the OGJ Online Staff

HOUSTON, June 25 -- The US Environmental Protection Agency has scheduled June and July meetings to take public input on whether enforcement of a Clean Air Act rule is hampering investment in electric generating and refinery capacity.

The Bush administration ordered the 90-day assessment of the new source review provisions of the Clean Air Act as part of its recently released national energy plan. The final report, due to President George W. Bush Aug.17, is expected to include recommendations on how to improve the new source review process.

The national energy policy also called for Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft to decide how to proceed with ongoing enforcement measures initiated under the Clinton administration. Environmentalists were quick to respond to the controversial proposals. They complained the Bush administration appears to be about to tie the EPA's hands on one it most effective enforcement tools.

New source review requires firms to install the best pollution control equipment available when they build a new facility or when they makes a major modification that increases emissions from an existing facility. Under the Clinton administration, the EPA used the rule to launch a crackdown alleging modifications were made at power plants, refineries, and other industrial facilities in violation of the law.

In numerous lawsuits, the EPA and Justice departments alleged a number of power plants, refineries, and pulp and paper mills made upgrades enlarging and extending the life of polluting facilities in violation of the new source review provision of the Clean Air Act.

The lawsuits sought to force the companies to install billions of dollars worth of pollution-control equipment. Industry claimed the modifications were routine maintenance that previously had passed must with EPA without problems. The companies complained they were victims of an illegal retroactive rulemaking by the agency.

The EPA said it recognized the new source review process is complex and burdensome both for affected companies and for state and local agencies responsible for implementing the program. The agency said it has been exploring options to simplify the program, reduce the length of the review process, and remove any barriers it may pose to innovation and improved energy efficiency.

The report to the president will summarize key findings with respect to the electric generating and refining industries and examine whether new source review rules, including permitting and compliance, have deterred investment in new capacity. It will also include recommendations on how to improve new source review procedures and minimize any adverse impact on the energy industry.

Beginning June 27, the EPA said separate meetings will be held with outside stakeholders, including affected industries, environmental groups, and state and local governments. The public meetings will be held July 10 in Cincinnati, Ohio; July 12, Sacramento, Calif.; July 17 in Boston, Mass.; and July 20, in Baton Rouge, La.

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