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State: EPA's changes won't affect county

Published June 14, 2002

By Michael Wright
The Facts; Clute, Texas
Covering Brazoria County

State officials say looser pollution regulations announced by the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday wonít have much of an impact on Brazoria County, but some environmentalists say the plan ensures the air will never meet federal standards.

The EPA wants to cut red tape on New Source Emissions and simplify the process. To do so, it has proposed allowing companies to avoid permits when they renovate a unit or plant if the overall emissions at the plant will not increase. The agency also says plants that had "Best Available Control Technology" in 1990 or later could be exempt for up to 15 years.

It also will allow older plants, exempted from current standards, to buy credits from other plants to avoid reducing emissions.

"This rollback of the Clean Air Act is certain to cause the failure of the air quality plan for Houston," said Karen Hadden, executive director of Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition. "Industries of all types will be able to pollute more than ever and breathers will have a harder time finding a breath of fresh air."

Hadden said the EPA hasnít studied the effects the new rules will have on the State Implementation Plan.

Cindy Fanning, an EPA spokeswoman in Dallas, said sheís not sure if the effects on non-attainment areas were considered.

Industrial polluters in Texas still will have to meet state permitting standards, which are stricter than the Bush administrationís proposals, a Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission spokesman said."That does not affect our obligation under federal law to get Houston-Galveston area into compliance by Nov. 15, 2007," said Patrick Crimmins. "We can require whatever controls are necessary to meet our obligation to get the Houston area into compliance with federal law."

The eight-county Houston-Galveston area must reduce smog-causing emissions to levels mandated by the Clean Air Act by 2007 or face the loss of hundreds of millions of federal highway dollars.

The TNRCC has devised a plan, approved by the EPA, that includes severe cuts in nitrogen oxide emissions by plants, a 55 mph speed limit and stricter automobile emissions standards, to bring the area into compliance.

John Wilson, executive director of the Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention, agreed with Crimmins.

"I certainly think itís a bad thing for the country, but I donít think itís going to affect Houston," Wilson said.

But Hadden has no confidence the state will be effective.

"The state does not have a good record of enforcement of any of their environmental laws," she said. "Without strong federal legislation, the outlook is not very encouraging."

The New Source Review policies are designed to ease red tape through which plants plow to renovate old units.

"EPA is taking actions now to improve NSR and thereby encourage emissions reductions," EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said in a news release. "Our review clearly established that some aspects of the NSR program have deterred companies from implementing projects that would increase energy efficiency and decrease air pollution."

The new rules will benefit coal-burning power plants the most, but petrochemical plants also stand to be affected.Some environmentalists see the new rules as a harbinger of Armageddon.

"These changes signal a road map for more pollution and thousands more premature deaths," Hadden said.

Denny Larson, coordinator of the Refinery Reform Campaign of the SEED Coalition agreed.

"Todayís announcement is nothing more than a death sentence for Texas refinery and chemical plant communities," he said. "These communities cannot suffer another rollback of the Clean Air Act."

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