rules Report: EPA Lacked Data for Easing Rules

Mon aug 25

By JOHN HEILPRIN, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON The Environmental Protection Agency (news - web sites) relied on anecdotes from industries it regulates for its argument that relaxing air pollution rules for industrial plants will cut emissions and health risks, congressional investigators said Monday.

The report from the General Accounting Office (news - web sites), an investigative arm of Congress, finds little to support EPA's claims that the Clean Air Act "new source review" program needed revising because it discourages energy-efficiency improvements at plants. Last December, the agency eased pollution-control requirements for utilities, oil companies and manufacturers.

"Because it lacked comprehensive data, EPA relied on anecdotes from the four industries it believes are most affected," the GAO report says. "Because the information is anecdotal, EPA's findings do not necessarily represent the program's effects across the industries subject to the program."

The EPA is expected to announce this week another revision to the program to let industries claim more plant upgrades as "routine maintenance" that do not require more emissions-cutting devices.

EPA officials said Monday they agree with the report's main recommendation that the agency needs to find appropriate data to track results of the rule changes as they are put in place by federal and state authorities.

Lisa Harrison, an EPA spokeswoman, said EPA intends "to establish and strengthen mechanisms" of judging the program's success. "The bottom line is that EPA remains committed to improving the NSR program, and our improvements will make the Clean Air Act work better to protect public health," she said.

EPA officials said last month they would reconsider parts of the final rules issued last December, including the allowable intervals between pollution-control upgrades, requirements for record-keeping and pollution reporting, and methods of calculating emissions.

Jeffrey Marks, who directs air quality policy for the National Association of Manufacturers (news - web sites), said better data generally leads to better regulation, but that didn't make the EPA wrong in this case.

"Despite the GAO's finding that the EPA lacked the data to monitor the effects of the NSR rule, we believe that the EPA correctly concluded that the final NSR rule would lead to overall economic, energy efficiency and environmental benefits," he said.

EPA's new final rules have been met with intense criticism and legal challenges from environmentalists and some states who say the effects on air quality and public health are unacceptable. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut's attorney general, said the GAO report confirms the rule changes aren't supported by scientific evidence and shows the administration has sold out to special interests.

"Its supposed scientific data sullies and demeans environmental science itself. This report should be the final nail in the coffin of environmental credibility for this administration," he said.

Sen. James Jeffords (news - web sites), I-Vt., the No. 2 senator on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the report is another indication the Bush administration's weakening of the Clean Air Act is unwarranted.

"They don't like to get the facts in the way of their frenzy to rollback important environmental and public health protections," he said. EPA said it didn't do more cost-benefit analysis of the rule changes because it wasn't required there was less than $100 million in economic and environmental impacts. Jeffords and several Senate Democrats have pressed for more analysis, saying internal EPA documents indicate there would be more than $2 billion in annual health benefits if the program was left intact.

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