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Environment

House Takes Aim At Clean Air Act

Pollution: Industry backs cost-benefit analyses of EPA rules, but critics fear assault on public health

by Glenn Hess
October 3, 2011 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 89, ISSUE 40

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Credit: Shutterstock
A House-passed bill would delay EPA rules aimed at reducing toxic power plant emissions.
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Credit: Shutterstock
A House-passed bill would delay EPA rules aimed at reducing toxic power plant emissions.

Wide-ranging legislation designed to curb EPA’s ability to more strictly regulate toxic air pollution under the Clean Air Act has passed the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Approved by a vote of 249-169 on Sept. 23, the bill (H.R. 2401) would set up a Cabinet-level committee to study the cumulative costs of more than a dozen major new or proposed EPA rules and analyze their impact on energy prices, employment, and the global competitiveness of U.S. industry.

The chemical industry supports the legislation, saying it will shed light on the regulatory burdens that are harming U.S. job growth and recovery.

“The ability of America’s chemical manufacturers and all the industries that rely on chemistry to compete globally and create well-paying jobs here at home requires that regulations reflect a real-world understanding of the costs to business,” says Calvin M. Dooley, president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council, an industry trade association.

Congress and the Obama Administration “must fix deficiencies in the way agencies develop regulations so proposed rules are rational and balanced,” Dooley adds.

A provision added to the bill would also block EPA from moving forward with a rule slated to take effect in January 2012 that requires 27 states to reduce power plant emissions that contribute to smog and soot pollution transported across state boundaries. The regulation applies to sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, which mostly come from coal-fired plants.

Another amendment directs EPA to take into account feasibility and cost when setting National Ambient Air Quality Standards, effectively overturning a 2001 Supreme Court decision that upheld EPA’s practice of considering only public health impacts when developing the standards.

Critics charge the measures would undermine EPA’s ability to reduce air pollution and protect public health.

“Everyone should be able to breathe clean air, but this bill puts tens of thousands of lives at risk by blocking the cleanup of deadly air pollution,” says Lauren Randall, of Environment America, an environmental advocacy organization. “Americans deserve better.”

The bill now goes to the Democrat-controlled Senate, which is unlikely to pass it. But if it does clear the Senate, the White House has threatened a veto.

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