Friday, February 04, 2005

EPA IG: Bush Administration Compromised Mercury Project 

Environmental Protection Agency Inspector General Nikki L. Tinsley has issued a report strongly critical of instructions given by agency political appointees to the agency's career staff in the process of developing a proposal for controlling mercury emissions from coal-fueled power plants, the largest emitters of mercury in the US.

The proposed rule and information about it can be found on the EPA's website. The report from the Office of the Inspector General can be found here, and the IG's statement regarding the report can be found here. From the report:
Evidence indicates that EPA senior management instructed EPA staff to develop a Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standard for mercury that would result in national emissions of 34 tons annually, instead of basing the standard on an unbiased determination of what the top performing units were achieving in practice. The 34-tons-per-year target was based on the amount of mercury reductions expected to be achieved from implementation of nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2 ) controls under a separately proposed, but related, air rule. According to EPA officials, 34 tons represents the most realistic and achievable standard for utilities. However, because the results of the MACT standard were prescribed and prior estimates were lower than what was proposed, the standard likely understates the average amount of mercury emissions reductions achieved by the top performing 12 percent of utilities, the minimum level for a MACT standard required by the Clean Air Act. Further, this MACT standard, as proposed, does not provide a reasonable basis for determining whether the MACTor cap-and-trade approach provides the better cost benefit.

The investigation was requested by members of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee. The committee on Tuesday held hearings to evaluate the Clear Skies Act of 2005. This is the "separately proposed, but related, air rule" mentioned in the above excerpt from the EPA IG report. Senator Barbara Boxer opened her statement to the committee as follows (from her prepared statement):
Mr. Chairman, I appreciate having a hearing before this Committee on the challenges of cleaning up the air. It is, however, unfortunate that you have chosen to focus this hearing on legislation that would actually increase pollution.
Perhaps this should be renamed the "No Lungs Left Behind" bill.

Posted by Beth Henderson at 10:01 AM