WASHINGTON -- In a victory for energy producers, the Environmental Protection Agency yesterday proposed relaxing air pollution rules to make it easier for utilities to upgrade and expand their coal-burning power plants.
EPA's long-awaited announcement on the "New Source Review" requirements of the Clean Air Act touched one of the most contentious air pollution issues facing the Bush administration. It would ease some of the most stringent measures that environmental groups say are a key element in forcing dirty, older plants to cut emissions by up to 95 percent.
"EPA is taking actions now to improve NSR and thereby encourage emissions reductions," EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said in a statement. "NSR is a valuable program in many respects but the need for reform is clear and has broad-based support."
Whitman said her agency's review, urged more than a year ago by the White House energy tax force, "clearly established that some aspects of the NSR program have deterred companies from implementing projects that would increase energy efficiency and decrease air pollution."
Environmentalists have maintained that the current regulations, pressed in lawsuits filed by the Clinton administration, ensure that utilities install additional pollution controls when they modernize or expand the plants to produce more electricity. …