Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Seeing Past the Clean Air Act

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Seeing Past the Clean Air Act

Article excerpt

Seeing Past The Clean Air Act

When President Bush signed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 into law last November, he billed it as "the most significant air pollution legislation in our nation's history." He said there will be "cleaner cars, cleaner power plants, cleaner factories, and cleaner fuels."

Relying on technology-driven, market-based strategies, the law is designed to reduce air pollution - in the form of hazardous air pollutants, acid rain, and smog - by 56 billion lb per year. This includes a 75 percent reduction in air toxics, a 50 percent cut in acid rain, and a 40 percent decrease in smog over the next 20 years or so.

Like the original Clean Air Act (CAA) of 1970, the new law does not on its own guarantee clean air, or even cleaner air. It's a framework from which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state agencies will develop the implementing regulations - "the real substance" of clean air, according to Mary James Legatski, manager of government affairs, Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Assn. (SOCMA).

There will be a "multitude and maze of regulations" that will follow over the next 10 years and beyond, said Rob Wilkins, director of the Clean Air Regulatory Project for the National Environmental Development Assn. (NEDA), a business coalition.

"EPA and the states have considerable discretion as to how we get from where we are today to what Congress intended," Wilkins said. "The regulations, to a large extent, will determine how onerous the law is. They can do everything from provide you with a myriad of choices and flexibility to serve as regulatory straitjackets."

According to some estimates, implementing the law's 11 titles will require EPA to write 250 or more regulations, many within two years of the Nov. 15, 1990, enactment date. EPA, which has to initiate the regulatory program with numerous key regulations and guidance documents, may end up hiring as many as 300 additional staff people and is relying on committees and working to Debbie Sheiman, resource specialist, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "We want to make sure people are really benefiting the environment and aren't taking credit for on-paper reductions such as shutting down a process," she said.

"By taking advantage of this, industry is not expecting to get away with anything," contended SOCMA's Legatski, who said many of her association's member companies will be among the first regulated by EPA and are therefore interested in the voluntary reduction program. "It means the air is getting cleaner faster. That's what you want."

Title III also contains several accidental release provisions. It gives owners and operators of stationary sources of pollution a "general duty" to identify hazards, and prevent or minimize the consequences of accidental releases. EPA is required to establish threshold quantities for at least 100 of the most hazardous chemicals and set up procedures for preventing accidental releases of these chemicals. The law also calls on EPA to work with OSHA to prevent accidental releases and establishes an independent Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, charged with investigating any accidental release that results in a fatality, serious injury, or substantial property damage.

Failure on EPA's part to meet some of the deadlines established by Congress could invoke some of the law's "hammer provisions," including citizens filing suit against EPA and Congress revisiting certain issues.

"We understand that the agency is feeling the pressure of some tight deadlines," SOCMA's Legatski said. "However, in the rush to meet the deadlines, we hope EPA is not tempted into writing very broad, one-size-fits-all regulations."

That, she said, would hurt small companies, such as those SOCMA members who make specialty chemicals in batches.

Risk Assessment

As mentioned before, MACT standards are technology-based; they represent the state-of-the-art in pollution control. …

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