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Daily News

August 21, 2001

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A number of Northeast senators, including Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), are warning the Bush administration not to drop a series of Clean Air Act lawsuits against Midwestern power plants, citing reports that the administration may drop the federal suits as part of its review of EPA's new source review (NSR) program. The senators and Northeast state officials fear that it would be more difficult to proceed with similar state suits against the power companies if the federal suits are dropped.

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August 20, 2001

A leading EPA advisory panel on compliance assistance is expected to call on the agency to develop a more holistic approach to integrating voluntary pollution reduction efforts into more conventional enforcement and regulatory programs. The recommendations are likely to be a major boost to the Bush administration, which has tagged voluntary pollution reduction efforts as a policy priority.

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Congressional investigators have moved one step closer to possibly filing litigation against the White House over its development of a national energy strategy. The threat of litigation was prompted by allegations from key Democratic lawmakers about industry influence in developing a strategy that critics say would benefit oil and other large energy companies.

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EPA and State Department officials have rejected calls by a coalition of U.S. and international environmental organizations that the Bush administration ban the export of hazardous wastes and recyclables to developing nations as part of a broader effort to ratify a treaty on the international handling of toxic materials.

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A broad coalition of public policy activists is expected to seek broadened whistleblower protections in federal-state environmental enforcement agreements throughout New England, after Washington and EPA rejected a similar request for enforcement plans in that state. The push represents a shift in strategy by the group, which will now seek the broader protections in performance agreements scheduled to be released in September for Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island.

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The Army Corps of Engineers has restarted a controversial study on the costs and benefits of a massive project to expand the lock-and-dam systems on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, after allegations were raised that Corps was underestimating the environmental damage that could result from the expansion.

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August 17, 2001

Oil refiners that have settled enforcement cases for violating EPA's new source review (NSR) provisions are pressing the Bush administration to ensure that competitors that have not settled similar cases do not gain any competitive advantage in the event that the administration decides to drop its enforcement efforts or make other reforms to the NSR program later this fall, industry sources say.

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EPA officials have launched a comprehensive new database that for the first time allows the public to link the location of polluting facilities with the demographics of their communities, and includes data on the racial makeup of a community, facility permits, cancer rates and education levels of nearby residents.

EPA's unveiling of the database comes as congressional Democrats and public health groups are preparing to build support for a new legislative initiative aimed at linking environmental policies and public health data, with a particular emphasis on risks to children.

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A pending showdown in the Senate environment committee over boosting nuclear industry insurance premiums for cleanup costs could kill reauthorization of an expiring federal program that caps facilities' liability and provides federal assurances in the event that private-sector funds are insufficient.

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EPA officials have granted a power industry request to ease the Clean Air Act's stringent new source review (NSR) rules for certain types of steam-generating electrical turbines, which could pave the way for utilities around the country to boost their electricity generation without the threat of future enforcement actions from the agency.

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Two coalitions of utility companies are seeking congressional support for competing plans to establish a multi-pollutant emission reduction regime for the industry, with the two plans differing on whether to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2), and whether to fix or eliminate EPA's permit program for new and modified sources, known as new source review (NSR).

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August 16, 2001

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Fearing curtailment of fuel supplies, EPA officials and petroleum refiners have quietly begun discussions on possible changes to a Clinton-era Clean Air Act rule setting a cap on mobile source emissions of toxic pollution, including postponing the rule's effective date for up to two years.

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Environmentalists and labor unions are looking to a forthcoming campaign opposing new trade negotiating authority as an opportunity to solidify their shaky alliance, after environmentalists suffered a bruising defeat when key labor groups backed the Bush administration's energy bill that passed the House late last month.

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The General Accounting Office (GAO) late last month completed a new report on EPA's management of its workforce, finding that the agency lacks a coordinated strategic plan to ensure adequate in-house technical, engineering and scientific staff to fulfill the agency's mission in the future, sources familiar with the report say.

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EPA has commissioned a study with the aim of developing a new legal analysis that could be used to exempt electric generating facilities that install new energy efficient technologies from the new source review (NSR) and other permit requirements of the Clean Air Act.

The newly proposed study could conceivably recommend changes to almost any aspect of Clean Air Act enforcement, a source familiar with the research says. Aside from NSR, another area it could touch on is the procedure for granting air quality permits for small-scale improvements to a facility.

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August 15, 2001

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EPA is expanding its voluntary energy efficiency programs in order to encourage the use of renewable fuel sources as part of its effort to implement the Bush administration's energy plan.

The agency recently announced a new "green power" program, in which a group of corporations, universities and local governments have agreed to purchase a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources, which include hydropower, wind, solar and biomass.

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The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) is urging EPA to prevent any delay in implementing strict new rules limiting diesel emissions, fearing that the White House may bow to industry pressure to amend or delay the rules before they take effect over the next few years.

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EPA officials are facing the prospect of assuming control over almost 100 state and local air permit programs for major emissions sources because the agency may not be able to meet a Dec. 1 court-ordered deadline for approving the programs.

Further complicating EPA's efforts, environmentalists say, is an agency plan to give final approval to some programs even before all problems have been ironed out, which may not be consistent with the original court settlement.

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An EPA request to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to conduct a study of ammonia emission releases from confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) could be a first step in agency efforts to clamp down on agricultural emissions.

EPA does not currently regulate the industry but farms do produce particulate emissions that at high enough levels must be controlled under the Clean Air Act, according to EPA and state air regulators.

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