Utah Joins States Supporting Looser EPA Clean-Air Rules

Utah Joins States Supporting Looser EPA Clean-Air Rules

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah will join eight other states that approve the federal Environmental Protection Agency's decision to loosen the Clean Air Act's regulations to allow older power plants, refineries, and factories to modernize without having to install expensive pollution controls.

The Utah Attorney General's office this week intervened in the lawsuit, making Utah among nine states coming to the defense of the EPA's relaxed air-quality regulations.

Utah's participation comes after the Bush White House sought out friendly states to defend the EPA from New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who is leading 14 states and a number of cities in seeking a court injunction to short-circuit a measure by the Environmental Protection Agency before it goes in effect Dec. 26.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., by the following states: New York, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

All but one of the attorneys general representing the states are Democrats. Peter Heed of New Hampshire is the sole Republican.

The states sued the EPA last month, but are now seeking a quick court intervention to block the rule change before it can take effect.

Fred Nelson, an attorney in the Utah AG's environment division, said Jerry Kilgore, the Republican attorney general for Virginia, who filed a brief to intervene on EPA's behalf, also solicited Utah's support.

The decision to intervene was made jointly by the Utah governor's office and by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, Nelson said.

Besides Virginia and Utah, the other states filing to support the EPA's rule changes are Alaska, Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. All of the attorneys general except that of Arkansas are Republican.

Under a provision of the act called "new source review," industries had to install the latest pollution-control technology when they upgraded their equipment or increased their air emissions.

The changes, pushed by the Bush administration, allow industries and power plants several exemptions to expand their operations without installing new pollution equipment.

Spitzer said the exemptions will allow higher levels of air pollution, contrary to the intent of the Clean Air Act.

"The Bush administration is again putting the financial interests of the oil, gas and coal companies above the public's right to breathe clean air," said Spitzer in a news release.

New York and other Eastern Seaboard states are downwind from dozens of large coal-fired power plants whose emissions could increase as a result of the changes to the new source review rules.

The nine states coming to the EPA's defense say the new rules give states regulatory flexibility and reduce their financial burden of enforcement.

Several Utah regulators, though, have stated the changes may have the opposite effect by adding a new layer of bureaucracy.

Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who resigned earlier this month to head the EPA, hasn't publicly addressed the changes to the new source review rule, which were approved by the acting EPA administrator shortly before Leavitt was confirmed.

An active participant in the Western Regional Air Partnership, however, Leavitt helped craft plans to reduce power plant emissions that cause haze in the West's national parks.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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