EPA may relax pollution rules
Fair Use Statement
EPA may relax pollution rules
Tuesday, June 6, 2000
By Associated Press
The Environmental Protection Agency is considering giving industrial
plants greater flexibility to meet air pollution requirements, according to
an internal EPA document.
While critics complained Monday that the proposal could weaken
pollution controls, senior EPA officials characterized it as "very
preliminary" and "not remotely close" to being put into effect.
An EPA "draft white paper" proposes that the EPA allow state and local
authorities to issue "smart permits." They would require overall limits on
air emissions but allow considerable leeway in meeting requirements
within plants to let them make operational changes or expand operations
without new permits. That would make it easier for the plants to meet
changing production and manufacturing demands.
EPA officials played down the proposal's significance and said the
agency does not plan to change the permitting process in ways that
would lead to weaker pollution controls.
The draft paper "has not been seen by anyone in senior management of
the agency," said EPA spokesman Dave Cohen. "This thing is very
embryonic. It doesn't represent much of anything." He characterized it as
"an idea sheet" by midlevel staff members in the agency's air pollution
The new permitting approach would be designed to help facilities with
"acute flexibility needs" such as rapidly growing computer chip
manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies, according to a memo to
EPA regional air pollution control directors, who last month were asked
to comment on the draft white paper.
Copies of the documents, disclosed Monday by The Wall Street Journal,
were made available by Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility, an environmental advocacy group with close ties to
Jeff Ruch, the executive director, called the proposed change a "dramatic
shift in air quality regulation" if given final approval. He said the white
paper was leaked by EPA employees worried that the changes would
weaken enforcement of air pollution rules.
"There are big unanswered questions about how pollution permits with
this much flexibility can be enforced or even consistently applied from
state to state," said Ruch.
Industry has complained for years that EPA's air pollution requirements,
which direct how states and local authorities issue pollution permits to
industry, are too rigid under the 1990 Clean Air Act. The permits limit
the amount of pollution a plant may be allowed.
Executives of companies in rapidly changing or fast growing industries
have complained that too often companies must obtain new pollution
permits if they expand a plant or make major internal production
changes, even when overall emissions may not change significantly. New
permits can take months to obtain.
The EPA white paper suggests that a so-called "smart permit" could be
used when a plant would be expected to request frequent permit changes
because of rapid growth or production or manufacturing demands. The
flexibility would reduce long-term administrative costs, encourage
pollution prevention and get companies "to comply in a smarter, more
efficient fashion," the internal EPA analysis added.
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