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December 2, 2002
Volume 80, Number 48
CENEAR 80 48 p. 11
ISSN 0009-2347


ENVIRONMENT

BUSH EASES RULE ON CLEAN AIR
Regulation relaxes new source review; states plan suit to block rule

CHERYL HOGUE, C&EN WASHINGTON

A new clean air act regulation will allow chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturers and refineries to change their production facilities without obtaining new permits, according to EPA.

The final regulation, unveiled by the Bush Administration on Nov. 22, revamps the 25-year-old new source review (NSR) rule requiring facilities that increase air emissions when expanding or changing their production processes to install modern pollution control equipment.

As part of its NSR revisions, EPA is establishing plantwide ceilings on emissions of a particular pollutant. Such a cap covers all operations at a facility. Under this scheme, companies may alter a facility without obtaining an NSR permit as long as the plant does not exceed the emissions cap.

Industry, which has decried NSR as complicated and expensive, applauds the changes. The American Chemistry Council says, “The reforms will help companies make necessary upgrades more quickly and efficiently while protecting the environment.”

Jeffrey R. Holmstead, EPA assistant administrator for air and radiation, agrees that the limits will be helpful to industries that make frequent changes to their operations, including chemical and pharmaceutical makers.

For instance, working with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, 3M Corp. conducted a pilot effort on plantwide emissions limits for volatile organic compounds at a St. Paul plant, says Jeffry C. Muffat, 3M manager of compliance assurance and initiatives. “It worked extremely well for us,” he tells C&EN.

Meanwhile, environmental activists and many state officials argue that the new regulation weakens NSR, which they view as a powerful tool for cutting air pollution. They are concerned that the caps could be set at a level much higher than a facility’s current emissions, allowing pollution to increase.

The regulation does allow facilities that voluntarily install the best available pollution controls to increase their emissions if they operate within permitted limits.

Just when the NSR regulation will take effect is uncertain. State attorneys general from the Northeast are poised to ask a federal court to stop the rule from taking effect while they litigate its merits. The northeastern states are worried that the rule will allow power plants in the Midwest to increase emissions that cause acid rain and smog and then are carried by prevailing winds to their region.

Environmental activists and congressional Democrats condemned the NSR revision. “This is the Bush Administration’s payoff to 13 big electric utilities for the more than $4 million they gave to elect Republicans to Congress,” says Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), outgoing chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, called for EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman to resign. “Time and again, her advice has been overruled by a White House determined to gut commonsense environmental standards. Out of principle and protest, she should step down,” he said.

In addition to the final rule, EPA also issued a proposal to address perhaps the most controversial part of NSR—defining what constitutes routine maintenance, repair, and replacement, activities that do not trigger NSR. The agency hopes to finalize that regulation in about a year.

RELIEF Refineries and petrochemical complexes won’t have to obtain new permits every time they want to change a production process.



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Copyright © 2002 American Chemical Society



 
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