In an apparent effort to diffuse criticism from environmentalists, the Bush administration is considering stepping up legal action against some polluting utility companies. U.S. EPA Administrator Christie Whitman has ordered the agency’s regional enforcement officials to look for companies that have violated the Clean Air Act by upgrading power plants without installing state-of-the-art pollution-control equipment, as required under New Source Review regulations. The Clinton administration sued nine companies for New Source Review violations, but no new suits have been filed in the 16 months that President Bush has been in office. On the contrary: Environmentalists and some within the EPA have suggested that the administration encouraged utilities currently involved in litigation to stall in the hopes of more lenient rules coming down the pipe. Perhaps to refute that charge, the EPA and the Justice Department sent letters last month to two such companies warning them to settle within 60 days or face court action. “What this all shows is that we are serious about cleaning up the air,” said Joe Martyak, the EPA’s chief spokesperson.