January 28, 2003
The Rendell administration yesterday asked a federal appellate court to block the implementation of new federal rules that would relax air pollution standards faced by the operators of thousands of old factories and refineries.
Acting Secretary of Environmental Protection Kathleen McGinty said the state acted because of "troubling" changes to so-called "New Source Review" rules. She noted that the less-stringent rules could have harmful environmental and economic consequences to the state. "We realize that the new source review program is not perfect and that changes may be needed, but these changes by the [Environmental Protection Agency] are troubling for Pennsylvania," McGinty said.
Aside from public health risks associated with poorer air quality, McGinty cited concerns that Pennsylvania businesses might be saddled with the cost of cleaning up incoming pollution from states to the west and south.
The regulatory changes at the heart of the dispute relax long-standing rules requiring installation of modern pollution control technologies at about 17,000 aging plants when they are otherwise upgraded or expanded, thereby creating another source of emissions. Industries have complained that the old rules -- as interpreted by President Bill Clinton's EPA -- were too costly. Some business lobbyists said the high cost of complying with the rules choked off investments in power-generating plants and discouraged a variety of energy-saving efficiencies.
Environmentalists have called the revisions the most far-reaching attempt to weaken the federal Clean Air Act. The regulations took effect Dec. 31.
Nine other Northeastern states have filed a separate lawsuit challenging the new rules. David Hess, McGinty's predecessor at DEP, had opted not to join the multi-state suit, but said this month that Pennsylvania might file a separate challenge to the air pollution rules. Yesterday's filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington brought that review process to fruition and was immediately hailed by some of the state's leading anti-pollution watchdogs.
Many plants were exempted from original Clean Air Act standards in exchange for requirements that pollution controls would be added as they were repaired or renovated, noted Michael Fiorentino, Harrisburg director of the Clean Air Council. "The idea ... there are now so many ways under the new regulations for that to never happen -- it's just irresponsible public policy," Fiorentino said, adding that the state's legal challenge is "definitely the right decision for protecting the public health in Pennsylvania."
The president of the Pennsylvania Business Roundtable, an organization of senior executives of some of the state's largest businesses, was far less enthusiastic about yesterday's action. "We certainly are concerned about the lawsuit and look forward to seeing the filing and discussing the matter with the Rendell administration," said Michael McCarthy.
The new federal rules authorize more lenient methods of calculating emissions and, in some cases, raising emissions-output targets that plant operators would have to meet.
McGinty, who served as President Clinton's principal adviser on climate change and sustainable development, said Pennsylvania opted to file its court action separately from the other Northeastern states in order to gain "our own seat at the table to help resolve these issues." But she added the administration is likely to join other states in a separate, administrative petition asking EPA officials to reconsider their decision on the new rules.
EPA spokesman Dave Deegan declined comment on the latest legal challenge, saying agency officials had just learned of the petition and not been able to review it.
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