Sierra Club & NRDC Urge Calls to White House about Clean Air Rules and New Source Review, by Gretchen Randall

BACKGROUND: The Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) are urging their members to call the White House January 17 and ask the President to not “reward his campaign contributors by rolling back the Clean Air Act.” This is in reference to the administration’s plans to modify the New Source Review (NSR) rules, which govern how much existing power plants and refineries must spend on updating pollution controls when they modify plants.

TEN SECOND RESPONSE: Our air has been getting cleaner over the last 25 years. It is now time to review the cumbersome regulations imposed on industry so Americans can enjoy an inexpensive and abundant supply of electricity.

THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: We all want clean air and we’ve made great strides in achieving it. There must also be a balance so that we can continue to have abundant supplies of electricity and petroleum. We can achieve both. The administration should review the NSR rules to make it easier for industry to continue supplying Americans with needed energy. After all, few big “base load” power plants are being built due to ever-changing NSR rules and no new refineries have been built in over 25 years.

DISCUSSION: Existing generating plants and refineries were grandfathered in when the Clean Air Act was written in the 1970s but are required to install new pollution control equipment if major “modifications” are made to existing plants. There continues to be disagreements on what constitutes “maintenance” versus “modification.” The EPA is expected to recommend revisions to the rules shortly.

Environmentalists are urging that no change be made in the NSR rules while industry would like the rules modified to make it easier for them to obtain permits to build new plants. NSR rules have changed 29 times in the last four years. The frequency of these changes make the construction of new plants costly and uncertain for investors.

Scott Segal, a lawyer representing power companies, is quoted in the New York Times (January 16) as claiming “the current interpretation of the rules for New Source Review” could result in a loss of generating capacity for 12 million households each year. Coal-fired plants, which are greatly affected by these rules, account for over 50 percent of the electric power in the U.S.

Meanwhile, the Pacific Research Institute (PRI) reports in its Index of Leading Environmental Indicators 2001 that according to EPA national air quality data “the aggregate measures show that the nation as a whole meets the EPA targets for clean air.” In addition, the EPA’s Air Quality Index showed that the “number of days during which various cities reached the unhealthful threshold” saw a large improvement since 1998. PRI concluded that “we may have reached a major turning point in our long effort to improve air quality.” For a link to the report:


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