Thursday, April 1, 2004

EPA head predicts cleaner air soon

Sierra Club disputes claims of progress

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

New federal regulations on air quality over the next few months will result in more reductions in air pollution in a shorter time than during any period in the country's history, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Mike Leavitt said Wednesday.

The nation's top environmental official also countered some claims by environmentalists that some of the new rules would harm the environment.

"By a rough measure, we've cut air pollution by half in the last 30 years or so," Leavitt said. "But we can make more improvement in 15 years with some of the things we are about to implement. There are a lot of fictions that have entered into the debate ... but we stand by our claims."

Leavitt, appointed by President Bush in November, was in Cincinnati to give a $125,000 grant to the city of Cincinnati's Brownfields Job Training and Development Pilot Program, which trains workers in environmental clean-up procedures.

Leavitt also visited the Enquirer editorial board - the third Bush Cabinet member to do so this week. He called the timing of the visits "a coincidence."

The former Utah governor touted what he called an "undertold story of the progress the president has made in the area of clean air."

Leavitt said his agency is set to start implementing much tougher clean air standards on April 15, when the EPA will list which areas are out of attainment. (Northern Kentucky and Southwest Ohio don't meet the old standards; it is expected that both areas won't meet the new standards, either).

He also says he hopes soon to issue two rules that he says will help areas out of compliance meet the standards. The two rules are to include off-road diesel vehicles in a regulation already requiring all diesel vehicles to begin using non-sulfur diesel fuel by 2007 and a requirement that all coal-burning power plants reduce emissions by 70 percent by the end of the decade.

A local representative of the national Sierra Club strongly disagreed with Leavitt's assertions.

"The Bush administration has gone about systematically weakening the Clean Air and Clean Water Act protections and enforcement and they have, as a result, put our communities at risk," said Glen Brand, the Sierra Club's Midwest Regional Representative.

The Sierra Club and others have criticized the proposed power-plant emissions rule because it provides power suppliers the option of buying credits instead of controlling emissions. Some environmentalists say the rule will allow more pollution than the existing law.

But Leavitt said market forces would eventually force all suppliers to make changes, pointing to success with a similar rule regarding acid rain.

"It will eventually become cheaper for them to make the changes instead of buying the credits," he said.

Leavitt also defended a rule the EPA proposed last year concerning how much mercury power plants can emit, saying that the controls are the first ever to be implemented for mercury specifically. He said that the rule, combined with the overall 70 percent reduction that will be required under the other proposed rule, would lower mercury levels from where they are now.

That proposal has enraged some environmental and public health groups, which claim that it would let coal-burning power plants emit more mercury than if the existing Clean Air Act were enforced.


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