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Politico Pro: Another EPA delay renews green fears
May 19, 2011

Posted by Matt Dempsey 

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Another EPA delay renews green fears

By Robin Bravender

May 19, 2011

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Green groups and public health advocates fear the Obama administration won't go to the mat to defend major environmental rules that are getting hammered by industry and GOP lawmakers.

Earlier this week, the EPA announced it would stall its controversial air toxics rules for industrial boilers - the latest in a string of rule delays that have ruffled feathers among the administration's supporters. Now, environmental advocates fear the agency will back down on a range of other major rules that have come under fire.

"It's clearly a situation where the agency is making its decision based on political expedience, not principle," said Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew. "And once you get onto that slippery slope, where do you stop?"

Greens are concerned that a trend is developing after the EPA last year punted on a controversial rule to curb ozone pollution and appears likely to push final coal ash regulations until after the 2012 election.

The EPA announced Monday that it would reconsider the final boiler rule issued in February, saying the public did not have sufficient time to comment before the rule was issued. The EPA also postponed the standard in the meantime.

Agency spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said Wednesday that the EPA is "committed to issuing these standards in the timeframe outlined in the proposal because it is long past time to level the playing field and put in place the first-ever national standards for the hazardous pollutants emitted by these facilities."

The agency had previously asked to delay the deadline for the rules until next year, but a federal judge rejected the request. EPA officials have consistently denied any political motives in their decisions to push back the rule.

Pew, whose group sued the EPA to finalize the "Boiler MACT" rules, said this week's announcement is the worst of the delays he's seen from the Obama administration. Previously, EPA had asked the court for extensions, he said, but this time, the agency refused to allow a rule to take effect under a court-ordered deadline.

"If that's the response to political pressure, how can you count on these people not to do it again?" Pew said.

Pew and others are questioning whether EPA will stand up for other major rules, including a pending air toxics rule aimed at cutting pollution from utilities, which has also been assailed by industry and lawmakers.

"It raises a question about other important safeguards," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch. He said there's been no indication yet that the EPA will back down, adding that "the stakes are even higher" with that rule. "My concern is that when EPA shows a sign of weakness it may encourage the enemies of EPA to press even harder because they smell blood."

The American Lung Association Wednesday sent a letter to EPA chief Lisa Jackson urging the agency to reject any requests to delay the utility rule.

The EPA's critics in Congress haven't shown any signs of letting up. Top Republicans in both chambers took a victory lap Monday following EPA's announcement, congratulating the agency for backing down.

"The decision to halt their implementation and allow for reconsideration, which will include further public comment, is welcome news," House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton said in a statement.

Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans are planning legislation to delay EPA's air toxics regulations for boilers, utilities and cement plants. Upton said those efforts will continue despite the EPA delay.

"We will continue to consider additional legislative action to address these and related EPA rules more comprehensively to ensure that they are achievable and do not impede economic growth or job creation," he said.


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