A Busy Year for EPA’s Air Office

As the Washington Post reports today, EPA is temporarily delaying a decision to regulate coal ash, a toxic byproduct formed when smokestack scrubbers capture pollutants otherwise destined for the air. Today is the one-year anniversary of a major coal ash spill that sent a billion gallons of toxic goo cascading across hundreds of acres of land in eastern Tennessee. EPA regulation is necessary to prevent future disasters, environmentalists say.

Although EPA has slowed on coal ash, it has made strides elsewhere. In particular, EPA’s air office has had a busy year. (Coal ash regulation is actually under the purview of the water office.) This passage from the Post article jumped out at me:

"I don't think I've ever seen this many major proposals coming out this quickly," said Jeffrey R. Holmstead, who headed the EPA's air-pollution efforts under [President George W.] Bush. 

Mr. Holmstead may or may not have intended his comment as a plaudit for EPA, but I’m taking it as one. Look at some of the highlights from EPA’s air office so far this year:

  • Pledges to revise the national air quality standards for ozone and lead (proposals for both are expected soon);
  • A final determination declaring greenhouse gases a threat to public health and the environment;
  • A proposal to limit GHG emissions from passenger vehicles, and a separate proposal for power plants, factories, and other industrial facilities (final rules are expected in the spring of 2010);
  • A proposed strengthening of the national air quality standards for nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide (final decisions are expected in January 2010 and June 2010 respectively);
  • A final rule setting up a greenhouse gas reporting inventory with public access to the data;
  • A final rule curbing harmful emissions from large ships (announced today). 

In each of those cases, public health and environmental advocates have been generally positive about EPA's proposed and final decisions. (Nitrogen dioxide may be the exception, though EPA still has an opportunity to make progress there.)

For more on the Obama administration’s record on environmental and public health and safety issues, see OMB Watch’s regulatory policy year in review: http://ombwatch.org/node/10657.

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