Published on Saturday, October 19, 2002 by the Washington Post
Effort to Ease Air Rules Decried
Bush Plan Weakens Enforcement, Former EPA Official Says
by Christopher Lee
A former top Environmental Protection Agency official said yesterday that the Bush administration's plans to ease enforcement of industrial air pollution regulations have brought efforts to crack down on polluters to a standstill.
Sylvia K. Lowrance, former acting head of the office of enforcement and compliance, said in an interview that companies have little incentive to settle cases with the EPA if they think new rules proposed by the White House will let them off the hook.
"They are hoping for a better deal," said Lowrance, who retired from the EPA in July after 24 years.
Lowrance had written of her concerns in a letter Wednesday to Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), who solicited her comments after a Senate hearing on the EPA's New Source Review program.
EPA spokesman Joe Martyak said yesterday the agency continues to vigorously press its lawsuits against companies it believes have violated clean air standards.
He said companies "can see that these cases are moving along on the judicial front . . . When you say they have no incentive to talk about a settlement, I don't think that's accurate."
The administration in June announced a major relaxation of Clean Air Act enforcement rules governing older, coal-fired power plants and refineries that would effectively preclude government legal action in all but the most flagrant cases of pollution.
The proposed change in the enforcement policy would give industry more leeway in modernizing plants without being required to improve pollution control equipment. Environmental groups and many lawmakers denounced the plan, which triggered congressional hearings and reviews.
Industry officials have argued that the current enforcement policy imposes billions of dollars in extra costs that prevent utilities from modernizing their plants.
Lowrance said the EPA's primary enforcement tool has been lawsuits, most of which end in settlements. But since January 2001, the EPA has announced only two new settlements, she said.
And although the EPA continues to issue violation notices, "the fact is that settlements and the filing of new cases have ground to a halt," she wrote.
Martyak denied that, saying there is simply a normal "ebb and flow" to settlement activity.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company