U.S. says air pollution rule change is minor tweak

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 05, 2011 2:23 PM
U.S. says air pollution rule change is minor tweak

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. environmental regulators will not be buckling to political pressure in making the minor changes expected to an air pollution rule, an Obama administration official said on Wednesday in response to a newspaper report.

The rule would require power plants in 27 states to cut emissions of smog-forming pollution.

"Folks may try to make this into something it isn't, but these kinds of changes are made all the time," an Obama administration official said in an email. "It's how the Clean Air Act works."

The Environmental Protection Agency is considering tweaking its Cross-State Air Pollution Rule which is intended to slash emissions of the chemicals from power plants. The official said the agency is talking about reducing 1 to 4 percent of the overall pool of emissions allowances in the rule, which would not reduce its health benefits.

A report in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday said the EPA was expected to weaken the rule because of pressure from some states, industry and Congress.

The EPA does face heavy political opposition on a raft of air pollution rules from Republicans and some Democrats in states that are highly energy-dependent.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives last month passed a wide-ranging bill that would block a raft of EPA clean air rules including the Cross-State rule and on mercury emissions.

And last month the EPA did buckle to pressure when the White House directed it to drop new rules to limit smog pollution. The EPA also delayed plans to issue rules on greenhouse gas emissions for a second time last month.

Those changes were blasted by environmentalists.

But the EPA said a slight tweaking of the Cross State rule would be a normal technical change based on new information and environmentalists agreed.

"I don't see this as a retreat at all," said Frank O'Donnell the president of Clean Air Watch, who said the change was likely based on updated information on emissions from local governments. "Typically this wouldn't raise an eyebrow because it happens all the time."

Donna Nelson, the chairman of the Texas Public Utility Commission, said she had no indication from EPA that any changes were in the works for Texas which has sued the agency over the state's last-minute inclusion under the Cross State final rule issued in July.

"I would be thrilled if they were to change their position or to give Texas the due process they were required to do under law," Donna Nelson told Reuters on Wednesday after speaking at an industry conference in Austin.

"It looks like they are tinkering around the edges, not making big changes."

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner, additional reporting by Eileen O'Grady in Houston; Editing by Alden Bentley)