EPA Rolls Back Clean Air Standards for Power Plants

The Bush administration recently approved a major rollback of the nation’s clean air standards that will allow increased pollution from the oldest and dirtiest power plants. Under the rule changes, these plants can upgrade their facilities without having to install the latest anti-pollution controls (as they were previously required to do under EPA's New Source Review program) even if it results in new emissions. Anti-pollution controls must be added only if upgrades exceed 20 percent of the value of all equipment used to produce electricity, an extremely high threshold. This loophole -- which builds on previous rollbacks announced last year -- will result in at least 20,000 premature deaths per year, 400,000 asthma attacks, and 12,000 cases of chronic bronchitis, according to the Clean Air Task Force. In writing the Clean Air Act, Congress exempted older plants from compliance with new emissions standards because it was generally thought they would be phased out -- an assumption that turned out to be wrong. Yet instead of pushing these plants to clean up their act, the Bush administration has given them a permanent free pass. The explanation appears to be rooted in the administration’s cozy relationship with electric utilities, which gave more than $26 million to Republicans in the 2000 and 2002 election cycles -- more than double what they gave Democrats. “The Bush administration, using an arbitrary, Enron-like accounting gimmick, is authorizing massive pollution increases to benefit Bush campaign contributors at the expense of public health,” said John Walke, director of the Clean Air Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Corporate polluters will now be able to spew even more harmful chemicals into our air, regardless of the fact that it will harm millions of Americans.”
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