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EPA may relax pollution rules
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Source: ENN

World Wire
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 control offices.

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 federal workers.

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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Michael R. Meuser
Data Research & GIS Specialist is an independent firm specializing in GIS project development and data research. We created the first U.S. based interactive toxic chemical facility maps on the internet in 1996 and we have been online ever since. Learn more about us and our services.

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