EPA Abruptly Backs Away From Proposals to Alter Air-Pollution Rules

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Environmental Protection Agency yesterday abandoned its push to revise two air-pollution rules in ways that environmentalists had long opposed, abruptly dropping measures that the Bush administration had spent years preparing.

One proposal would have made it easier to build a coal-fired power plant, refinery or factory near a national park. The other would have altered the rules that govern when power plants must install antipollution devices. Environmentalists said it would result in fewer such cleanups.

EPA officials had been trying to finalize both proposals before President-elect Barack Obama is sworn in Jan. 20. But yesterday, an agency spokesman said they were giving up, surprising critics and supporters of the measures.

"These two items are not things we're going to get done in the next 48 days" before Obama's inauguration, EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar said. He said the EPA still supports the proposals, which have both been in the works for at least three years.

Shradar said the agency was abiding by an administration order against "midnight regulations."

In addition, Shradar said in an e-mail, the rule about when power plants install cleanup devices had been complicated by a recent court ruling. In July, a federal appeals court struck down the EPA's Clean Air Interstate Rule, a pollution-control measure with which the new proposal was designed to work.

But William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said there may have been another motive. He said the EPA may have decided it would be futile to fight for the new regulations since Obama could have reversed them.

The press office for Obama's transition team did not reply to a request for comment yesterday evening.

"I think the administration's getting beat down badly on environmental regulations" already, Becker said. "There was nothing to be gained by, you know, going out with [these new rules]."

The proposal on parks would have changed the rules for new plants being built nearby. Currently, computer models project how bad pollution would be over three-hour and 24-hour periods, to guard against short-term spikes in pollution from nearby smokestacks.

The EPA wanted to alter this rule, to focus instead on the average of air pollution over an entire year.

Clean-air advocates had protested that this might allow parks such as Virginia's Shenandoah -- where the famous mountaintop views are already obscured by smog and haze -- to become even dirtier on certain days.

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