November 24, 2002

NOVEMBER 22, 2002

Attorney General Steven Rowe will join eight other state attorneys general from the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states in filing a federal lawsuit against the Bush Administration for endangering air quality by gutting a critical component of the federal Clean Air Act. The other suing states are New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Maryland.

Based on EPA estimates, the attorneys general believe that changes in the rules under the Clean Air Act announced today by the federal Environmental Protection Agency would exempt up to 50 percent of industrial facilities, including coal-fired power plants, from the New Source Review provision of the Clean Air Act. New Source Review requires that industrial plants add modern air pollution controls when they are upgraded or modified.

This major weakening of the Clean Air Act will further degrade air quality in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states, regions already struggling with poor air caused in significant part by industrial pollution carried into the region on prevailing winds.

"It is unconscionable that the Bush Administration would put the financial interests of corporate polluters above the health interests of American people. Through Senators Muskie and Mitchell, the State of Maine led the enactment and reenactment of the federal Clean Air Act. The Act benefits Maine people most because we are located at the end of our nation's "air pollution tailpipe." If the Clean Air Act is significantly weakened, Maine people will be biggest losers."

Rowe noted that air pollution causes lung disease, and that lung disease is the number three killer of Maine people. Maine has the highest rate of asthma among adults in the nation. More than 100,000 Maine people suffer from chronic lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis.

The lawsuit will allege that the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is exceeding its authority and violating Congressional intent by enacting rules that weaken the Clean Air Act, which was passed in 1970. When Congress passed the Clean Air Act, its intention was to improve the environment and protect public health by lowering levels of air pollution. The Bush Administration's new rules and regulations would have the opposite effect of allowing air pollution levels to rise.

The oil, gas, electricity and coal industries have vigorously lobbied the Bush Administration to relax New Source Review requirements. This would allow their facilities to be upgraded without adding the required pollution controls on their smokestacks.

The EPA estimates that the changes announced today could exempt half of facilities from being subject to New Source Review. Despite moving forward with new rules, the EPA has yet to quantify how this sharp reduction in pollution controls will affect the environment or public health. However, credible researchers predict that air emissions will increase if the new EPA rules are put in place.

In a February 2002 letter to EPA Administrator Whitman, Rowe and eight other attorneys general called on EPA to fully document any secret contacts the EPA or the Energy Task Force had with outside parties regarding New Source Review revisions. To date, the Bush Administration has refused to turn over records relating to Energy Task Force meetings with industry lobbyists.

The following elements of the new rules are among those likely to be challenged by the state attorneys general lawsuit:

Adoption of a "clean unit" exclusion. The EPA will create a fifteen-year New Source Review exemption for a facility that has installed modern pollution controls in the past ten years. This would give a facility that installed technology that was not even state-of-the-art many years ago a blanket exception for emission increases well into the future.

Revised approach for calculating baseline emissions. EPA would allow facilities to set their "baseline" emission levels at the average of their highest two years of pollution out of the last ten years. Thus, polluters could significantly increase their emissions over current levels without installing pollution controls.

Plant-wide applicability limits. EPA will exempt polluters from New Source Review if they agree to a cap on their air pollution. The cap could be set higher than the facility's current emissions, even though the Clean Air Act intended air pollution to decrease.

The lawsuit will be filed in federal court in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. The case will be filed when the regulations are published in the Federal Register, which is expected shortly.