US may weaken
power plant clean air regulations
January 9, 2002 Page A8
WASHINGTON -- Politicians
and environmentalists in Canada and the United States
reacted with alarm yesterday to reports that Washington
may soon weaken environmental controls on coal-fired power
stations in the U.S. Midwest, the source of much of the
air pollution in Eastern Canada and New England.
The New York Times, quoting unnamed sources, reported
yesterday that senior officials in the White House have
recommended that President George W. Bush allow antiquated
power plants to improve their energy efficiency without
upgrading their pollution controls.
"I'm extremely disappointed that they're contemplating
presenting those recommendations to the White House,"
Ontario Environment Minister Elizabeth Witmer said yesterday
in an interview.
Half of Ontario's air pollution is generated by the United
States, principally from coal-fired power plants in the
Midwest. Ontario issued 23 smog-alert warnings last summer,
compared with four the year before.
"While we move forward to do what we can, it's disappointing
to hear that those steps are going to be taken in the
United States," she said.
The attorneys-general of nine northeastern states called
a news conference to condemn the reported recommendation.
"The Bush administration is preparing the most dangerous
attack on air quality since the Clean Air Act was adopted
[in 1970]," New York Attorney-General Eliot Spitzer
Any weakening of the Clean Air Act, he said, would be
a "historic, monumental surrender" of environmental
quality to cheap energy.
Soon after taking office, the Bush administration ordered
the Environmental Protection Agency to review and update
its air-pollution legislation.
The resulting debate within the administration has reportedly
pitted EPA head Christine Todd Whitman, said to favour
preserving environmental controls on power plants that
use fossil fuel, against Vice-President Dick Cheney and
Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, who favour improving
energy self-sufficiency by relaxing pollution controls.
Mr. Bush has a background in the oil business and was
backed heavily by the energy industry in his presidential
bid. While the EPA has yet to table its final report,
the results of informal discussion between the agency
and the Energy Department have been submitted to the White
House, the Times reported. A final recommendation is expected
later this month.
A spokesman for the EPA dismissed the Times story as
speculation. "We're still finalizing the proposal,"
Joe Martyak said. "We're not there yet, although we're
He said the agency hoped to have a final proposal ready
for the White House within the "next several weeks."
But even hints that pollution-control rules will be relaxed
"The Bush administration is in the process of enabling
these plants to achieve a form of immortality through
ongoing exemption from the Clean Air Act," said Dan
McDermott, director of the Sierra Club of Eastern Canada,
an environmental group. "It's very bad news."
The 1970 Clean Air Act exempted numerous power plants
from improving their air emissions unless they attempted
to modernize their facilities, in which case strict controls
would be imposed.
The owners of these grandfathered plants argue that they
cannot improve their performance to meet rising energy
demand unless some of the clean-air requirements are loosened.
Environmentalists and politicians from Canada and northeastern
states that receive emissions from the plants are pressuring
the Bush administration to maintain and even toughen the
While the Ontario government reacted strongly to word
of the tentative tradeoff in the United States, federal
officials were more circumspect.
The federal government was monitoring developments and
would do extensive economic and environmental assessments
once a new policy had been put in place, said Kelly Morgan,
the press secretary for Environment Minister David Anderson.
Ms. Morgan said Environment Canada has been aware of
the developments and assured that the new enforcement
rules will not undermine a bilateral agreement to reduce
"We've been advised that if there is a reduction
in enforcement, the Ozone Annex commitments will not be
affected," she said.