New Toxic Air Emission Rules Win Praise but Critics Fault Laws for Their Cost and for Allowing Pollution to Continue

Article excerpt

BUSINESS leaders and environmentalists are generally pleased with the federal government's new rules limiting toxic air emissions from chemical plants.

But there are differences over the costs to firms and consumers. Some critics say the administration's attempt to balance environmental protection and economic impact means too much pollution will be allowed to remain.

Announced March 1 by the Environmental Protection Agency, the "chemical manufacturing rule" issued under the Clean Air Act is projected to reduce toxic air emissions by nearly 90 percent over three years as new plants start up and older ones replace equipment.

Some 370 chemical plants in 38 states are expected to be affected - most in Texas, Louisiana, and New Jersey. Such plants are among the biggest sources of toxic air emissions, and the new regulations are expected to reduce those by 506,000 tons a year. To do so, plant managers will have to sharply reduce toxic emissions coming from leaky tanks, vents, and evaporation.

EPA Administrator Carol Browner calls it "one of the most sweeping air-pollution rules EPA has ever issued - a landmark for public health."

But others are not so sure. The American Lung Association says the rule doesn't go far enough. And while the Natural Resources Defense Council praised the EPA for issuing "the first systematic federal regulation of hazardous air emissions from the chemical industry," NRDC attorney David Driesen said the rule doesn't do enough to protect "the communities in the shadows of these facilities."

Critics are particularly uneasy about "emissions averaging" under the new rule. This means operators, with state approval, can offset some pollution sources very costly to remedy with deeper emissions reductions elsewhere.

This is stricter than the Bush administration had proposed, in that such averaging can only be done at a specific plant and not between plants. Also, the Clinton administration is insisting that overall pollution reduction at the site be 10 percent greater than it would have been without the averaging. …