The Polluters' Pardon

The Bush Administration has ordered enforcement staff and attorneys at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stop any pending enforcement investigations against electric utilities and other industries that violated the New Source Review (NSR) provision of the Clean Air Act.

The assistant administrator for EPA's enforcement office, J.P. Suarez, told EPA staff of the decision in November.

The pullback means that EPA will no longer pursue pending enforcement actions against 50 power plants, refineries and other facilities that received a Notice of Violation under the NSR rules in effect before the Bush administration's decision to loosen the rules by creating new loopholes for polluting industries.

"This is easily the most vile, radical and illegal enforcement stance ever taken by the EPA in its 30-plus-year history," says John Walke, a clean-air specialist with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The new loopholes allow plant owners to significantly change their plant operations and increase emissions without adopting pollution controls, effectively gutting a key part of the Clean Air Act and undermining several cases already in court.

Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says that he wants the committee to conduct hearings on the administration's actions. "The White House's policy is to coddle the big polluters, and the public be damned," says Leahy. "Doling out pollution pardons may make some big political contributors happy, but the American people will pay the price by breathing dirtier air."

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer jumped into the fray after the Bush administration announcement, saying that if the Justice Department will not enforce the cases, he will. He called on the Justice Department to turn over the case files to him so his staff can review them for possible prosecution.

© Multinational Monitor November 2003