Senators seek cost-benefit analysis of stricter air pollution rules
Two senators are planning to introduce legislation that could reduce the effectiveness of US air pollution laws, environmentalists have warned.
Senators George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and John Breaux (D-La.) are to introduce legislation requiring the EPA to conduct risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis before setting new clean-air standards, according to the Clean Air Trust.
Voinovich and Breaux will seek the introduction of a mandatory cost-benefit test before EPA can issue clean air standards. The Clean Air Trust says that such measures have already been promoted by US industry groups.
At present the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set national health standards based on scientific evidence and then to take costs into consideration as programmes to meet the standards are devised.
The Senators’ bill is intended to address a number of air regulations that are at various stages of the regulatory process. These include a requirement that states submit an implementation plan (SIP) to reduce nitrogen oxides and to stricter standards on gasoline and diesel.
“These measures could undercut efforts to clean up the plants,” Frank O’Donnell, executive director of the Clean Air Trust told edie. “The health standards are the basis for all clean up under the Clean Air Act – including the power plant rule. The senators want to weaken the standards, which would have an impact on all Clean Air Programmes. The real threat is not that the legislation could pass alone, but that it could be tied to other legislation, such as against [the fuel oxygenator] MTBE.”
Under the proposed Voinovich-Breaux approach, the EPA would be required to conduct an analysis of costs and benefits of alternative standards. The bill is modelled on the cost-benefit and risk analysis provisions that were enacted in the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments four years ago.
“It is only fair to ask the EPA to determine both the costs and the benefits of new clean air regulations before we ask businesses to spend millions of dollars each year to comply with more federal regulations,” Senator Breaux said. “If the EPA does risk assessment before issuing new drinking water regulations it seems reasonable that the same kind of study be conducted before asking companies nationwide to comply with new and expensive clean air standards.”
Environmentalists have reacted with alarm to the proposal. “This would cut out the heart of the Clean Air Act,” said O’Donnell. “It is the biggest threat to the Clean Air Act since Ronald Reagan and his pro-polluter administration tried the same gambit in 1981. Public health and environmental groups nationwide will rally as they did then to oppose this assault on our nation’s preeminent environmental law.”
“Adopting the Voinovich-Breaux approach would put polluters in control of the process,” O’Donnell claims. He also criticises the Senators’ wish for the Clean Air Act’s standard-setting process to mimic that of the Safe Drinking Water Act. “It’s ironic that Voinovich would want to trade an approach that has been successful in setting real health standards and requiring real pollution reductions for one that is suspect at best,” O’Donnell said. “Maybe that’s why our drinking water often isn’t safe. Maybe that’s why so many people buy bottled water or use water filters. By contrast, people don’t wear gas masks and only people who already have badly damaged lungs carry bottled oxygen.”
O’Donnell also says that both Senators have a record of opposing stricter environmental standards. As governor of Ohio, Voinovich worked with American Electric Power and other big power companies in 1996 and 1997 against the EPA’s attempts to update standards for smog and soot. In 1990, Breaux tried to increase permitted levels of pollution – so-called dead zones -around chemical plants, O’Donnell says.
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