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EPA Veteran Resigns Over Pollution Policy

_____Background_____
Bush Unveils Global Warming Plan (The Washington Post, Feb 14, 2002)
Suits Against Power Firms Justified, Justice Dept. Says (The Washington Post, Jan 16, 2002)
White House Warned on Easing Clean Air Rules (The Washington Post, Jan 9, 2002)
Growing Conflict Over Presidential Powers (The Washington Post, Dec 15, 2001)

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Don't Foul the Air (The Washington Post, Jan 2, 2002)

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Federal Diary by Stephen Barr
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Ideas Industry by Richard Morin and Claudia Deane
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By Eric Pianin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 1, 2002; Page A05

A senior Environmental Protection Agency official resigned this week, protesting what he described as Bush administration efforts to undermine tough legalactions against dozens of aging coal-fired power plants and refineries that have violated federal emission standards.

Eric V. Schaeffer, who headed the EPA's Office of Regulatory Enforcement, said yesterday that Energy Department officials treat the power industry as their "client" in pursuing drastic changes to enforcement policies aimed at eliminating millions of tons of unlawful air pollution.

"Fifteen months ago, it looked as though our lawsuits were going to shrink these dismal statistics," Schaeffer said in his resignation letter to EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman. "Yet today we seem about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory."

The resignation of Schaeffer -- a 12-year EPA veteran who oversaw air pollution enforcement rules for the past five years -- dramatizes an intense battle over proposals to roll back enforcement efforts against power plants and refineries in the Midwest and Southeast. Those power companies upgraded or expanded their facilities well beyond routine maintenance without installing new pollution control equipment as required by the Clean Air Act, the EPA and Justice Department contend.

The tough enforcement policy, begun in 1999 by the Clinton administration and known as New Source Review, has prompted the Justice Department and states to sue nine companies operating 51 older power plants in 12 states, plus scores of oil refineries. Two of the companies, Tampa Electric Co. of Florida and Public Service Electric and Gas of New Jersey, agreed to install anti-pollution equipment. Two others, Cinergy Corp. of Ohio and Virginia Electric Power Co., have reached agreements with the government.

Vice President Cheney's task force, responding to complaints from the energy industry, ordered a 90-day interagency review of the policy in May to see if it could be altered to reduce litigation. The industry says the policy imposes billions of dollars in extra costs that prevent utilities from modernizing their plants.

The review has dragged on for months and produced sharp divisions. On one side are EPA officials who believe coal-fired plants that are more than 25 years old must install modern anti-pollution equipment to keep operating. On the other are Energy Department and White House officials who believe utilities should be granted more latitude in updating their plants.

A recently disclosed EPA document sharply criticized the Energy Department for recommending changes in how regulators decide what level of factory emissions would trigger controls and for allowing plants to avoid stricter controls for 15 years under some circumstances.

The Energy Department declined to comment on Schaeffer's letter. EPA spokesman Joe Martyak disputed assertions that the administration was sorely divided over the enforcement issue. He said the EPA, Energy Department and White House were working together to devise a fairer and more effective policy.

"The review is not to eliminate New Source Review but to streamline it," he said. "And by doing that, you will be encouraging the utilization of more pollution-controlling devices."

But Frank O'Donnell of the Clean Air Trust and John Coequyt of Environmental Working Group said Schaeffer's letter was proof the administration had tilted its enforcement policies in favor of industry. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) called the letter "disheartening."

Facing opposition from environmentalists and Democratic lawmakers, the White House is considering shelving the proposed changes until Congress considers proposals for cutting power plant emissions and slowing global warming.

"I don't know of any plans in the immediate time frame" for announcing changes in New Source Review, an administration official said yesterday. "We're waiting to see what happens on the Hill."

Last month, President Bush proposed mandatory reductions in nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury from power plants and voluntary reductions in carbon dioxide. Whitman has said the New Source Review enforcement program could be scrapped if Congress approved the president's plan for deep power plant emissions cuts. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.) has introduced a tougher package of mandatory cuts in all four pollutants.

The Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a coalition of utility companies formed last year to lobby against the lawsuits, has met several times with administration officials to press for less stringent guidelines. On July 23, for example, a 15-person delegation -- including former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour and representatives of Southern Co. and Duke Power Co. -- met with Deputy Energy Secretary Francis S. Blake to discuss the issue, according to an Energy Department document.

Schaeffer, 47, said he resigned after becoming frustrated by the industry's influence over the administration's views on power plant enforcement policy, but he doesn't blame Whitman. Schaeffer, who received the Justice Department's John Marshall Award last August for his work in settling oil refinery cases, said in his resignation letter: "We are in the 9th month of a '90-day review' to reexamine the law, and fighting a White House that seems determined to weaken the rules we are trying to enforce. It is hard to know which is worse, the endless delay or the repeated leaks by energy industry lobbyists of draft rule changes that would undermine lawsuits already filed" or pending settlements.

Staff writer Dan Morgan contributed to this report.

2002 The Washington Post Company


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