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EPA Faces Internal Outcry On Airborne Emissions Plan

The draft of the new rule acknowledges that some EPA officials believe it could result in higher levels of airborne toxins but calls the regional offices' concerns "unfounded. While this may occur in some instances, it is more likely that sources will adopt [emissions] limitations at or near their current levels to avoid negative publicity and to maintain their appearance as responsible businesses."

The regional offices wrote in their Dec. 13 memo that "this statement is unfounded and overly optimistic."

John Walke, clean air director for NRDC, said the internal EPA memo highlights the flaws in the administration's proposal.

"Such objections underscore how the EPA would weaken the law and allow even more cancer-causing pollution into the air we breathe. This proposal is indefensible," Walke said. "No wonder even some of EPA's own experts are outraged by this secretly hatched plan to please polluters and their powerful friends."

EPA spokeswoman Lisa Lybbert said in a statement that discussing the proposal at this point is premature.

"This is a preliminary draft that is currently under development and internal review which could change before EPA issues it as a proposal. EPA will seek public comment when it issues the proposal," she said.

The proposal drew fire from some in Congress.

"If this draft rule were to be put into effect, polluters could emit many more tons of cancer-causing air pollutants and heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury and lead, seriously jeopardizing the health of millions of Americans," said Sen. James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.), the ranking minority member on Environment and Public Works Committee. "This rule turns the Clean Air Act topsy-turvy by letting polluters run their controls at half-speed."

The proposed rule change was drafted under the oversight of William Wehrum, the acting assistant administrator for the EPA's air and radiation office, who has been nominated to that post on a permanent basis. He is slated to appear tomorrow before the environment committee as it considers his nomination.

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