Obama EPA to Reverse Bush Air Pollution Loophole

The Environmental Protection Agency will delay the effective date of a rule finalized under the Bush administration that would add a loophole to the agency's New Source Review program. EPA's decision comes in response to a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). EPA also cites a memo from White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel which granted agencies leeway to address some Bush regulations.

AbacusEPA's rule, published in the Federal Register Jan. 15, would change the way industrial facilities count their air pollution emissions. The rule would no longer require facilities to aggregate emissions data, if the emissions are a result of different processes that are not "substantially related."

Under the rule, it would seem as though facilities were emitting less pollution (for purposes of government oversight). That would be a boon to those facilities, since lower emissions reduce the chance of triggering a regulatory obligation to install pollution control technology under the New Source Review (NSR) program. According to NRDC's petition, "All of these weakening differences and failings in the final rule result in fewer activities being aggregated for NSR purposes, meaning fewer pollution reduction measures will be required and greater numbers of significant emissions increases will escape review and control."

Although the rule was finalized under President Bush, it was not scheduled to take effect until Feb. 17. That window afforded the Obama administration an opportunity to reevaluate the rule.

On Jan. 20, new White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel issued a memo setting out the Obama administration's policy for dealing with some regulations left by the administration of President Bush. The memo asks agencies to "consider extending for 60 days the effective date" of those regulations that are final but not yet in effect.

EPA's delay notice, which will appear in the Federal Register tomorrow, extends the effective date for 90 days - until May 18. In the meantime, new EPA administrator Lisa Jackson can consider the regulation and decide whether to change it or simply jettison it.

Environmentalists hope for the latter. "NRDC is confident that the Obama administration will drop this harmful rule change completely, giving Americans a breath of fresh air," said John Walke, NRDC's director of clean air programs.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons author HB.

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