WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency plans to delay for one year a requirement that coal-fueled power plants reduce emissions affecting states in the Northeast.
Christie Whitman, the agency's administrator, notified members of Congress this week that she would seek court approval to postpone a requirement that utilities responsible for low-lying smog cut their pollutants significantly by May 2003.
Once again, the administration has chosen to sacrifice public health in favor of narrow utility interests.
Joe Martyak, an E.P.A. spokesman, said tonight that Mrs. Whitman's move was an attempt to "harmonize" court-ordered compliance dates for different types of plants, not an attempt to roll back the rule.
Environmental advocates said the move was a gift for a number of Midwest utilities that had fought the regulations, which require them to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 500,000 tons a year.
John M. Stanton, the vice president for air programs at the National Environmental Trust, said the rule would affect 140 million Americans who live in parts of the country that suffer smog drift from other states.
"Once again, the administration has chosen to sacrifice public health in favor of narrow utility interests," Mr. Stanton said.
Under Mrs. Whitman's proposal, utility companies would have until May 31, 2004, to comply with the rule. In her letter to 70 members of Congress, she indicated that she would prefer that states enforce the pollution reductions.
Eight Northeastern states filed petitions in 1997 asking the federal government to crack down on interstate smog. Among the petitioners was Mrs. Whitman herself, then governor of New Jersey. The other parties were New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine and New Hampshire.
The E.P.A. accepted that petition in 1999 and the utilities were given until May 2003 to cut pollutants under the Clean Air Act.
Several Midwest utilities have fought the measure in court, arguing that compliance would cost them millions of dollars and could jeopardize the energy supply. Last spring, an appeals court in the District of Columbia rejected their arguments. Mrs. Whitman cited the litigation as a reason for the delay.
On Capitol Hill, some Democrats were quick to criticize the move.
"We've been wrestling to get reductions for years, and an additional year's wait is not what the people really need," a Congressional aide said.
The delay is the latest twist in a series of environmental actions by the administration. The Justice Department ruled on Tuesday that lawsuits filed by the Clinton administration against power plants that failed to install clean-air devices should proceed. At the same time, the White House is considering a recommendation by Mrs. Whitman and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham to relax pollution rules.
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company