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New Bush smog rules put CA air rules in doubt

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  • 11/29 E. Bay Business Times
    Published Friday, November 29, 2002, in the East Bay Business Times EPA move puts state s air rules in doubt By Alan Doyle The Bush administration s relaxation
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 2, 2002
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      Published Friday, November 29, 2002, in the East Bay Business Times

      EPA move puts state's air rules in doubt

      By Alan Doyle

      The Bush administration's relaxation of air pollution rules could
      force Northern California to ease its restraints -– currently the
      toughest in the nation –- Bay Area Air Quality Management District
      officials say.

      The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency denies such a possibility in
      documents announcing the Nov. 22 change in "new source review"
      regulations aimed at reducing the paperwork and expense for heavy
      industries installing new equipment that will emit pollutants.

      And East Bay refineries say that although they're still studying the
      proposed regulations, they don't expect local standards will be
      subordinated to the U.S. EPA rules.

      Bay Area Air Quality Management District officials aren't so sure.

      "In this case, what I believe the feds are saying is that California
      can have only equivalent rates, which would be a big step backward,"
      said Terry Lee, the air district's director of public information.

      "I suspect they're both right," said Peter W. McGaw a Walnut Creek
      lawyer who heads the Contra Costa Council's environmental task force
      and is an expert on air and water law.

      "California can do whatever it wants to do as long as it's as tight
      or tighter than the feds," McGaw said. "That's not to say the feds
      aren't going to put some political pressure on California to come in
      line with the rest of the nation."

      Under the federal Clean Air Act, states must meet U.S. Environmental
      Protection Agency baselines but may adopt tougher standards. In
      announcing the Nov. 22 changes, the EPA said states would remain free
      to adopt tougher standards.

      California has done just that, with varying stringency by regional
      districts in the Sacramento area, the San Joaquin Valley and the Bay
      Area, which has written the nation's strictest industrial standards.

      Neither Gov. Gray Davis nor the Legislature is likely to ease those
      standards in response to Bush's announcement or pressure from heavy
      industry, such as the oil refining complexes in the East Bay and Los
      Angeles areas. In fact, some observers say Davis may propose tougher
      controls on water and air pollution.

      East Bay industries still are analyzing the proposed change in new
      source review, or NSR, regulations that will undergo a national
      public review and comment period before becoming law. Nationally,
      environmental groups have threatened to challenge the changes in
      court.

      "It's really too early to tell what, if any, impact the revisions
      will have. We're studying the revisions," said Bill Tanner, spokesman
      at Valero Energy Corp.'s Benicia refinery, where a proposed $150
      million upgrade project will undergo NSR review. "What we need to do
      is understand what the (Bay Area) air district is trying to do with
      the federal regulations."

      The Bush administration's changes in NSR regulations and maintenance
      standards were ordered after 10 years of study and hearings that
      began in the Clinton administration. EPA Administrator Christie
      Whitman said the changes were made to reduce redundant regulation and
      the cost of installing new equipment to reduce overall pollution.

      "NSR is a valuable program in many respects, but the need for reform
      is clear and has broad-based support," Whitman said in a Nov. 22
      press release. "The steps we are taking today recognize that some
      aspects of the NSR program have deterred companies from implementing
      projects that would increase energy efficiency and decrease air
      pollution. Instead of being a tool to help improve air quality ...
      NSR has stood in the way of making numerous environmental
      improvements at many facilities across the nation."

      In essence, the changes eliminate the need for an exhaustive review
      every time a "new source" of pollution –- which can be equipment
      installed to reduce emissions -– is installed, and grants more leeway
      for spikes created by maintenance as long as overall long-term
      emissions stay within limits.

      The changes appear principally to benefit older smokestack
      industries, such as coal-fired power plants, in the Northeast and
      Midwest. All of California's major power plants use natural gas,
      nuclear energy or water to turn the turbines that generate
      electricity. Only a few small coal- or oil-fired plants remain in the
      state.

      East Bay refineries don't expect any change in regional air standards
      to result from the federal action.

      That includes Shell Oil Products U.S., whose Martinez refinery this
      month paid $510,000 to the air district for violations between 2000
      and 2002, including major releases in October and December of 2001.
      The refinery also paid $675,000, including a $405,000 criminal
      penalty, to the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office for
      the October and December 2001 releases.

      "No matter the machinations in Washington, at the end of the day,
      we're governed by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which
      has the toughest environmental standards in the country," said Shell
      refinery spokesman Steve Lesher. "Those goals are standards that we
      embrace. It is our goal not only to meet those standards but exceed
      them."


      Reach Doyle at adoyle@... or 925-598-1404.
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