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9 Northeastern States Challenge Pollution Rule

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  • Teresa Binstock
    9 Northeastern States Challenge Pollution Rule By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE http://www.nytimes.com/2003/01/01/politics/01ENVI.html WA$HINGTON, Dec. 31 — Nine
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 1, 2003
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      9 Northeastern States Challenge Pollution Rule

      By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE
      http://www.nytimes.com/2003/01/01/politics/01ENVI.html

      WA$HINGTON, Dec. 31 — Nine Northeastern states filed a legal challenge today in
      federal court here to new air-pollution rules for power plants and other
      industries, just hours after the Bush administration published those rules.

      The states' attorneys general said the rules, which were tentatively announced
      last month, constituted the most serious effort at rolling back the landmark
      Clean Air Act since it was enacted more than 30 years ago.

      They said they wanted to make a strong, swift objection and filed their legal
      petition for review after seeing the new rules on a government Web site this
      morning.

      The rules, published today in the Federal Register, concern a program known as
      New Source Review. The changes would allow thousands of aging coal-fired power
      plants and other industrial sites to upgrade without having to install costly
      antipollution devices.

      Eliot L. Spitzer, the New York attorney general and an organizer of the suit,
      said, "The Bush administration has taken an action that will bring more acid
      rain, more smog, more asthma and more respiratory disease to millions of
      Americans."

      The Environmental Protection Agency, which published the rules, defended them
      and said the administration followed proper procedures in issuing them
      administratively rather than seeking legislation.

      "We reaffirm that we strongly believe that these rules will be positive for the
      environment," Joe Martyak, a spokesman for the agency, said. "We feel strongly
      that at the end of the day, what we've done is the right thing as well as a
      valid action. To say this is gutting the Clean Air Act is absolutely incorrect.
      It is strengthening these provisions."

      The utility industry criticized the suit. The Electric Reliability Coordinating
      Council issued a statement saying that "the Northeast attorneys general reflect
      a minority opinion," shaped more by economic concerns than by environmental
      problems.

      In addition to the published rules, the administration issued a new proposal
      that would expand an exemption allowing power plants and other industrial
      facilities to escape pollution controls. The suit filed by the states did not
      address that proposal.

      Their one-page petition, filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the
      District of Columbia Circuit, did not state the grounds for the challenge. But
      legal advisers in the states said they would argue that the rules violated the
      Clean Air Act and that they could not be made without the consent of Congress.

      The states' legal action escalates a struggle between utilities and clean-air
      advocates that has been waged since the Clean Air Act was signed into law by
      President Richard M. Nixon. Industries have complained most recently to the Bush
      administration that the current rules, begun under President Bill Clinton, were
      choking off new investments in power-generating plants and discouraging
      energy-saving efficiencies.

      Because the administration had made its intentions clear when it announced the
      rules last month, the attorneys general had time to prepare their coordinated
      legal response. Expecting that the administration would publish the rules during
      the holidays, when few people would be paying attention, the attorneys general
      signed their documents in advance and delivered them to Joseph Curran Jr., the
      attorney general of Maryland, whose aides filed them in court here today.

      "We could have waited," said Peter Lehner, chief of the environmental protection
      bureau in Mr. Spitzer's New York office. "But this is the first time there has
      been such a major retreat on clean air, and the states believed it was very
      important to respond aggressively and quickly."

      Mr. Lehner said he expected other states to join the suit in the next month. The
      nine that filed today were Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New
      Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

      The filing puts Christie Whitman, the administrator of the Environmental
      Protection Agency, in an awkward position.

      As the governor of New Jersey, Mrs. Whitman had joined other states in seeking
      relief from Midwestern power plants whose smokestack pollution drifted eastward.
      Now, as head of the agency promulgating the new rules, she is in the position of
      defending those rules.

      Both Mr. Spitzer and Richard Blumenthal, attorney general of Connecticut, have
      said that the rules proposed today would undermine their hand in prosecuting and
      settling the dozens of enforcement cases that as governor Mrs. Whitman had
      joined in bringing.

      "They feel like they've been sold out by her now that she's gone to Washington,"
      said John Walke, a clean air expert for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

      In those enforcement cases, the states, the E.P.A. and environmental groups
      asked judges to order companies to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on
      pollution controls, based on the New Source Review program that the states says
      the environmental agency is now proposing to weaken. Mrs. Whitman said in a
      recent interview that the new rules did nothing to compromise the enforcement
      suits. "Those are very important to me," she said. "Those cases are still going
      forward."

      Industry groups, which had pushed for the rules that were published today,
      hailed them and attacked the attorneys general. The National Association of
      Manufacturers said the rules would "help further clean air and boost energy
      security" and "provide business planners with greater certainty as they work to
      increase production and limit air pollution in a cost-effective manner."

      Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
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