Saturday, April 08, 2006

White House mulls changes to plant emission rules

White House mulls changes to plant emission rules

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House is reviewing an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposal that the agency says will streamline the way the it oversees smokestack pollution from power generators, oil refineries and other industrial plants.

According to a website filing made public Friday, EPA is asking the White House's regulatory arm, the Office of Management and Budget, to sign off on a rule that EPA says will reduce paperwork and clarify how the agency tracks emissions for certain plant operations.

EPA officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

When a refiner or generator now wants to modify a section of a plant that could change how other plant equipment operates, the so-called "debottlenecking" has to be reviewed by EPA on a case by case basis.

Similarly, if a plant operator makes modifications to several units in a facility at the same time, otherwise known as "aggregation," this also triggers a specific agency review because of concern the change would mean more emissions.

EPA said in its notice to OMB that if a company commits to keep its facility emissions below its agreed level, called a "Plantwide Applicability Limit," then the proposed rules "would provide flexibility for sources to respond rapidly to market changes without compromising environmental protection."

The agency's proposal is the latest effort to change clean air plant pollution rules that are loathed by industry.

A federal appeals court on March 17 struck down a Bush administration rule that would have made it easier for coal-burning power plants to make equipment changes without installing controls to fight the pollution that would result.

The court shot down EPA's ongoing effort to let plant owners only install modern pollution fighting controls if equipment changes cost more than 20 percent of the replacement cost of the plant.

Environmentalist remain suspicious that the White House, through EPA, will continue to try and gut the so-called new source review enforcement provisions of the Clean Air Act and allow the oldest, dirtiest coal-fired power plants to expand output without cutting polluting emissions.

"The administration is determined to grant loopholes from a program designed to keep factory emissions from increasing," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch of the latest EPA proposal.