Washington The Bush administration issued rules Tuesday to make it easier for industrial plants and refineries to modernize without having to buy expensive pollution controls -- and immediately was sued by nine states charging that the changes undermine their efforts to protect public health.
The Environmental Protection Agency regulations, which go into effect in March, amount to a major change in the way older industrial plants will have to deal with air pollution when they expand, make major repairs or modify operations to increase efficiency.
While the administration called the new approach badly needed to remove barriers to innovation and increased productivity, the lawsuit -- filed only hours after the changes became final -- argues that new breaks given industry amount to a "gutting" of the 1970 law that has been responsible for substantial air quality improvements of the past three decades.
The more relaxed requirements "will bring more acid rain, more smog, more asthma, and more respiratory diseases to millions of Americans," said New York Atty. Gen. Eliot Spitzer, calling them "a betrayal of the right of Americans to breathe clean healthy air."
Along with New York, eight other Northeastern states -- Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont -- joined in the lawsuit filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington.
Officials in the Northeast are especially concerned about the potential for increased industrial and power plant pollution because much of the chemical releases from coal-burning power plants and older factories in the Midwest and Ohio Valley drift eastward, making it harder to meet federal air quality standards in their states.
EPA and White House officials have maintained that the regulations -- as they were interpreted and implemented in recent years -- have kept companies from making some changes that would have cut pollution -- not increased it.
Among the changes to become effective in March:
l Companies will be given greater flexibility to modernize or expand without having to install new pollution controls, although the changes may lead to greater air emissions.
l Plants with numerous pollution sources may increase pollution from some sources as long as overall, plant-wide air emissions are not increased.
l Companies are given greater leeway in calculating pollution to reduce the likelihood that new pollution controls will be required.
The states' lawsuit argues that these measures violate the 1970 Clean Air Act, which exempted older plants from having the kind of emission controls newer facilities had to have -- but only on the condition that they not expand or make changes that significantly increases smokestack emissions.
The changes by the Bush administration would exempt thousands of sources of industrial air pollution including coal-fired power plants from these clean air requirements, the states argued.