Glendening pledges to sue EPA to save clean-air standards

Md. will join 3 other states fighting plan to relax rules

July 20, 2002|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening pledged yesterday to sue the Environmental Protection Agency to salvage clean-air regulations that he says are critical to reducing industrial pollution.

Using Baltimore's smoggy skyline as a backdrop, Glendening announced that Maryland will join three states in suing the EPA over its proposal to relax rules requiring power plants, refineries and other industries to upgrade pollution controls when they expand or renovate.

Glendening called the Bush administration's plan to ease the 25-year-old rules "outrageous."

"They want to give some of the nation's biggest polluters the ability to pollute more," Glendening said at a steamy news conference on a hill at the Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville. In the background, Baltimore's skyline was shrouded in a thick whitish haze of humidity and pollution.

Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said he plans to join with attorneys general in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey in a federal suit to block the proposed changes.

"We don't want any more of what we see here," Curran said, referring to the barely visible cityscape. The Baltimore area was under a "code orange" smog alert yesterday, under which elderly and people with respiratory problems are urged to avoid outdoor exercise.

The EPA announced plans June 13 to amend Clean Air Act provisions, known as New Source Review rules, which require power plants and other industries to modernize pollution-control equipment when they renovate or expand in ways that would make them "new sources" of pollution.

An EPA official said yesterday that the changes are the result of 10 years of work and have broad support. They are intended to increase energy efficiency and reduce emissions at power plants, refineries, incinerators, paper mills and other industrial facilities nationwide.

"I hope that when the governors see what we've actually done, that they will support our efforts and not fight us," said Jeffrey Holmstead, the EPA's assistant administrator for air and radiation. "We're confident the changes will actually improve air quality."

The proposal was seen as a victory for the power industry, whose advocates spent years trying to change the rules.

They say the existing rules discourage industries from performing some maintenance and force them to operate less efficiently because basic renovations can trigger costly and time-consuming government reviews of their operations.

"The rules are confusing and they're very, very cumbersome," said Jayne Brady, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based Edison Electric Institute, which represents 200 electrical utilities.

Brady said the rules need streamlining because they've been interpreted differently by different administrations in Washington. "We need to have a clear set of signals," she said.

The Clinton administration vigorously enforced the new-source rules, suing several power companies for violations in the 1990s. The Bush administration has said the rules should be revised to encourage industries to install more energy-efficient technologies.

But environmentalists say the proposed changes will make it easier for industries to pollute.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, says the planned changes would severely weaken pollution-control requirements for 17,000 power plants, factories and other industrial facilities nationwide.

Eric Schaeffer, EPA's former chief of regulatory enforcement, said existing rules help to minimize the smog that wafts into Maryland from Midwestern industrial plants. He said studies show that ground-level ozone -- the chief ingredient in smog -- is a serious threat to public health and causes up to 170 deaths and 4,400 asthma attacks in the state each year.

"We are talking about a silent killer here," Schaeffer said.

Curran said that he wrote to Vice President Dick Cheney Dec. 19 asking the Bush administration to "strengthen, not weaken" the new-source rules. He said that he and officials from other states also met with EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman several months ago to urge her not to weaken air-quality provisions.

The EPA has yet to submit the proposed rules to the Office of Management and Budget, which has 90 days to review them before they are released to the public.

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