Environmentalists are incensed at draft regulations proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week calling on older coal-fired power plants to be judged on hourly pollution output as opposed to the current annual standard. Under the proposed change to the controversial New Source Review program, power plants would be able to emit more pollution than is currently allowed by simply operating for more hours.
EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson told reporters that the recent establishment of a cap-and-trade system to limit nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions from these older plants will have a greater positive impact than the existing New Source Review system. “Let me be clear: This is not about getting rid of New Source Review,” said Johnson. “This is about making it work better.”
But environmentalists, not to mention some EPA officials, do not see it that way. “Whatever shell of New Source Review remained, it’s now being completely eviscerated,” said John Stanton of the advocacy group Clear the Air. Meanwhile, a recent memo from EPA’s own air enforcement division director, Adam M. Kushner, laments that “the proposed rule will adversely impact our enforcement cases and is largely unenforceable as written.”
Industry officials were quick to assure reporters that emissions reduction remains a high priority regardless of the proposed rule change. “From an air quality perspective, it is important to understand that the U.S. electric power sector is legally obligated to continue significantly reducing emissions, regardless of any changes to the New Source Review program,” said Dan Riedinger, spokesperson for the Edison Electric Institute, an industry trade group. “There’s nothing wrong with a vigorous and honest debate about NSR reform, but allegations that changing the program will lead to more pollution represent a gross distortion of the facts.”