11 February 2003
Plans to Relax Toxic Emission Standards
* The proposal would allow businesses, such as chemical plants,
to monitor their own releases and apply less rigorous controls.
Gary Polakovic, Times Staff Writer
Bush administration is proposing to relax measures that curb toxic
emissions from a variety of industries, including pulp mills, auto
factories, petrochemical plants and steel mills.
a new set of rules drafted by the Environmental Protection Agency,
the businesses could opt out of the current requirement to reduce
toxic fumes from their plants to the maximum extent possible. In
some instances, those controls can eliminate virtually all emissions
harmful to people's health, but businesses contend they cost too
much and provide little health benefit.
emissions at issue are not hazardous because of smog-forming potential,
but because they can lead to cancer or damage the brain or a developing
fetus. Under the new rules, the EPA would allow businesses to study
and report on their own emissions and apply less rigorous controls.
But opponents say that approach would allow toxic releases to continue
and would be at odds with the Clean Air Act.
current rules, the EPA uses what it calls maximum achievable control
technology. It uses as its standard the average emissions from the
cleanest 12% of companies in each industry.
proposal affects six industrial categories: brick and clay manufacturing;
plywood and wood products makers; stationary backup engines; auto-paint
shops; industrial boilers and process heaters; and gas-fired turbines.
EPA announced the proposal in September, and opportunities for public
comment for the various industries expire as early as Thursday and
as late as March 14. The EPA expects to finalize the new rules by
the end of the year.
California, which has its own rules, many states rely on the EPA
to set limits for hazardous air pollutants.
proposal signals a shift from stringent control of toxic emissions
in effect since the Clean Air Act was amended in 1990. It is the
first time the EPA has interpreted the revised law, which was signed
by the first President Bush, to allow companies to avoid the maximum
Holmstead, the EPA's assistant administrator for clean air, said
the agency is seeking to use a risk-based standard of protection
rather than one requiring all businesses to use technologies employed
by the cleanest 12% of companies.
there's not real risk there, then it's not good for society to pay
for controls that don't apply benefit," Holmstead said.
added that the EPA is allowed to exempt entire categories of industries
from controls, and that the new proposal simply broadens that approach
to individual companies.
have lobbied for the change. Many of the proposals are contained
in so-called white papers drafted by industry. Some of those papers
were prepared by the law firm of Latham & Watkins, where Holmstead
worked before joining the EPA.
Bessette, president of the Council of Industrial Boiler Owners,
said he is counting on the EPA for relief from what he deems onerous
regulations. He said it would cost $1.7 billion to upgrade the country's
nearly 60,000 boilers and process heaters with "maximum achievable
is very big. The costs associated with it for industry can be phenomenal,"
Bessette said. "I have better places to put my dollars, to
my employees, health benefits and things like that. Why should I
have to go to a very high-cost emissions reduction if the added
benefit is small?"
John Walke of the Natural Resources Defense Council said the benefit
is far from small. With increased emissions will come an increased
risk of cancer, he said.
along with state and local air-pollution control officers, say the
Bush administration is twisting the law. They say it is part of
a wider pattern to relax the nation's environmental laws to favor
is really going on here is rollbacks in environmental law, either
in the form of no enforcement or misinterpretation of the statute,"
said Rena Steinzor, director of the University of Maryland's Environmental
Law Clinic. "It is going on so far below the water line of
the public's attention that they are happening in a fast, furious
manner. It's designed to make sure we never regulate anything. It's
an end run."
Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), author of the section of the Clean
Air Act in dispute, said Monday that the EPA is reverting to an
air-toxin control strategy that has proved ponderous and slowed
cleanups to a crawl.
are on the wrong track. They are going to set us back to where we
were prior to 1990, when all these toxic air pollutants were uncontrolled
and unregulated," he said.
controversy is the latest sign of stress in the nation's toxic air
pollution program. In a recent report, the EPA inspector general
concluded that the program is behind schedule and that reform is
a top challenge. The EPA has regulated about half of the 176 industrial
categories targeted for control.