New air rules could allow coal-fired plants to pollute more

The Bush administration may finally eviscerate the legal basis for many pesky air-pollution lawsuits against coal-fired power plants. A new proposal being drafted by the U.S. EPA would change the system for monitoring plants’ emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide: after a plant modernized its equipment, its permitted emissions levels would be based on pollution produced per hour, instead of the long-established per-year standard. Under this revision of the Clean Air Act’s new-source review rules, if upgrades let plants operate for longer hours, they could end up polluting more than they did using older, dirtier equipment. This radical policy shift could undercut dozens of pending state and federal lawsuits seeking to force coal-burning plants to cut back on emissions. New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (D) said the rule change “would be devastating to all new-source review prosecutions,” and pledged to challenge it in court if the administration presses ahead.