(27 October 2003 — New York) Today Environmental Defense filed a legal challenge to the Bush administration’s sweeping rollbacks to the public health protections of the Clean Air Act’s new source review program. These rule changes, which were published today, put public health in jeopardy by allowing thousands of power plants and industrial facilities nationwide to increase air pollution and evade long-standing clean air safeguards. Environmental Defense is being represented by Earthjustice in the lawsuit.
“The Bush administration has radically weakened the foundation of the Clean Air Act and we now must use legal action to defend the public’s basic right to clean, healthy air,” said Environmental Defense senior attorney Vickie Patton.
The rules provide that changes at industrial facilities involving millions of dollars in equipment replacement and leading to substantially higher levels of air pollution are “routine” and no longer require improved air pollution control technology. The facilities affected include thousands of power plants, refineries, pulp and paper mills, chemical plants, and other industrial facilities throughout the U.S.
“This rule opens the door for major polluters to foul the air even more and threaten public health nationwide,” said Dr. John Balbus, MD, director of the Environmental Defense health program. “This pollution will wind up in the lungs of millions of Americans, increasing their risk for asthma attacks, heart problems and even death. Americans already spend over $50 billion a year for the health related costs of air pollution. Why would this administration want them to spend more??
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) controversial rule was issued after an August 2003 General Accounting Office report found that EPA relied on anecdotal information provided by major air polluters to justify its rollbacks to the Clean Air Act’s new source review. The original “new source review” program adopted in the 1977 Clean Air Act amendments required old, high-polluting sources such as power plants to prevent pollution increases that would worsen unhealthy air quality in urban centers or adversely impact national parks. The rules being challenged today would broadly exclude existing industrial sources from the long-standing requirement to modernize pollution controls by imposing an arbitrary economic test that would exempt major pollution-increasing activity from clean air protections while ignoring public health considerations.