EPA kills Clinton order to cut arsenic in drinking water

Critics say Bush places industry before health

March 21, 2001|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman rescinded yesterday a Clinton administration decision that would have reduced by 80 percent the amount of arsenic allowed in the nation's drinking water.

Critics said the move, combined with other recent actions, signals a tendency by Bush administration officials to appease industry rather than safeguard public health and the environment.

But Whitman, while acknowledging that arsenic levels permitted under current federal regulations are too high, questioned the level that would have been allowed under the Clinton ruling. The decision leaves in place an arsenic standard set in 1942. Her decision reflects the determination of Bush appointees to give more weight to economic considerations when making environmental decisions.

"When the federal government imposes costs on communities - especially small communities - we should be sure the facts support imposing the federal standard," Whitman said. She ordered more scientific and public reviews, and promised to come to a quick decision on a new standard.

The Clinton standard, which would have gone into effect at the end of the week, had been challenged in court by several Western states, a group of Western utilities and the mining industry. They took issue with the science behind the decision and complained about the cost of compliance.

Current regulations allow 50 parts per billion of arsenic in tap water. The Clinton administration ruling lowered that to 10 parts per billion. Congress required the EPA to set a new standard in 1996, but the ruling was issued in the administration's last days.

The European Union and World Health Organization have adopted a 10 parts per billion standard.

The ruling follows two Bush administration decisions last week that were criticized by environmentalists. One reversed a Bush campaign promise to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants; the other stalled implementation of a Clinton ban on road building and logging in 58 million acres of national forests.

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