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Context of 'August 27, 2003: EPA Exempts 17,000 Facilities from Obligation to Lessen Pollution'

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The Justice Department, on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, files lawsuits against 32 power plants in 10 mid-west and southeast states for failing to install state-of-the-art pollution controls—as required by the New Source Review (NSR) section of the Clean Air Act—when companies made major modifications to their coal-fired plants. The suits say that the companies’ violations of NSR has resulted in illegal emissions of tens of millions of tons of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter into the air. [US Department of Justice, 11/3/1999] Some of these companies have been releasing these illegal emissions for 20 years or more. [New York Times Magazine, 4/4/2004] Six months after coming to office, the Bush administration will put all of these investigations on hold, causing some companies to abandon settlements or pull out of their negotiations with the Justice Department (see June 22, 2001).

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Eric Schaeffer, 47, head of the EPA’s Office of Regulatory Enforcement, sends his letter of resignation to EPA administrator Christine Whitman. In the letter he says that he and his colleagues have been “fighting a White House that seems determined to weaken the rules that [EPA employees] are trying to enforce.” He complains that the administration is crippling the EPA’s enforcement divisions with budget cuts and that the White House is working with energy-industry lobbyists to weaken the New Source Review provision of the Clean Air Act which requires older coal power plants to install pollution controls when upgrading plant equipment (see August 27, 2003). [Schaeffer, 2/27/2002; Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/1/2002; Washington Monthly, 7/2002; New York Times, 1/5/2004; MSNBC, 4/20/2004]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration (43), Eric Schaeffer

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Companies charged with violating New Source ReviewCompanies charged with violating New Source Review [Source: Clear the Air]The Environmental Protection Agency finalizes a rule that makes four important changes to the New Source Review (NSR) section of the Clean Air Act. Critics say the changes will help polluting industries maintain the status quo.
Plant-wide Applicability Limits (PALs) - This change will allow a facility to set a Plant-wide Applicability Limit (PAL) based on its average emissions over the previous ten years. A facility will be exempted from the New Source Review process when it upgrades or expands its operations if those changes do not cause the plant’s emissions to exceed its PAL. Critics complain that the change does not require plants to reduce their overall emissions when a facility expands or modifies operations.
Pollution Control and Prevention Projects - Facilities will be permitted to undertake certain environmentally beneficial activities without having to apply for NSR permits.
Clean Unit Provision - Plants that voluntarily install “best available pollution controls” will be afforded “clean unit” status and exempted from NSR provisions for a period of 15 years. The change is retroactive to 1990.
Emissions Calculation Test Methodology - Facilities will be permitted to use a more lenient method when determining if a plant upgrade has increased its emissions. With the exception of power plants, facilities will be permitted to select any 24-month period during the previous decade to serve as its baseline for determining pre-modification emission levels. The EPA also announces that it intends to revise the “Routine Maintenance, Repair and Replacement” exemption so that any modifications whose costs do not exceed a certain level would be exempt from the NSR provisions requiring plants to install pollution controls and conduct impact assessments on the ambient air quality when upgrading or replacing equipment. [Clean the Air, n.d. pdf file; Environmental Protection Agency, 11/22/2002; EarthVision Environmental News, 11/25/2002; ENSR International, 12/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The EPA revises the “New Source Review”(NSR) provision of the Clean Air Act. Previously, the NSR required industrial facilities to install modern pollution controls when they made upgrades to their facilities. However, the provision’s revised definition of “routine maintenance” will exempt some 17,000 older power plants, oil refineries and factories from being required to install pollution controls when they replace equipment, provided that the cost does not exceed 20 percent of the replacement cost of what the EPA broadly defines as the entire “process unit.” This restriction basically allows industries to replace entire plants one-fifth at a time with no concomitant responsibility to controlling its emissions. This applies even to circumstances where the upgrades increase pollution. It is estimated that the revised rule could save billions of dollars for utilities, oil companies and others. Industry has spent the last two years heavily lobbying the White House for this rollback. [Reuters, 8/28/2003; Associated Press, 8/28/2003] New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer promises to sue the administration, telling reporters, “This flagrantly illegal rule will ensure that… Americans will breathe dirtier air, contract more respiratory disease, and suffer more environmental degradation caused by air pollution.” [Reuters, 8/28/2003]

Entity Tags: Eliot Spitzer, Bush administration (43), Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials announce during an internal meeting of EPA enforcement officials in Seattle and during a conference call the following day that current cases involving violations of the Clean Air Act will be judged according to the agency’s new interpretation of the New Source Review (see August 27, 2003) —to go into effect in December (see December 2003) —instead of the old, more stringent rules that were in use at the time the violations occurred. [Los Angeles Times, 11/6/2003; New York Times, 11/6/2003; US Congress, 2/6/2004] The backroom decision contradicts what EPA air official Jeff Holmstead told a Senate committee in 2002. “It is certainly our intent to make these (rules) prospective only,” he claimed at the time. [USA Today, 11/6/2003] According to lawyers at the EPA, the agency’s decision will likely result in the EPA dismissing investigations into 50 coal-burning power plants for past violations of the Clean Air Act. According to the lawyers, the changes—based on recommendations from Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force—could save the industry up to $20 billion. However in its official statement on November 5, the EPA says that no formal decision has been made to dismiss all the investigations, claiming that it would review each “on a case-by-case basis to determine whether it will be pursued or set aside.” [New York Times, 11/6/2003]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jeffrey Holmstead, Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Bruce Buckheit, the director of the EPA’s air enforcement office, is ordered to shut down ongoing New Source Review investigations—which he later says were strong cases—at several dozen coal burning power plants. In an April 2004 interview with MSNBC, he will recall: “I had to tell the regional engineers and lawyers, stop. Put your documents in the box, so that hopefully we can get back to it someday.” [MSNBC, 4/20/2004]

Entity Tags: Bruce Buckheit, Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Rich Biondi, 57, associate director of the EPA’s air enforcement division, announces his retirement citing frustration with the Bush administration’s changes to the Clean Air Act (see August 27, 2003) (see December 2003). “The rug was pulled out from under us,” he later says to the New York Times. [New York Times, 1/5/2004; MSNBC, 4/20/2004] And in an interview with Government Executive Magazine, he explains: “I felt I was still on the young side. There were things I wanted to accomplish. I was on the fence. If we could have continued to do some of the work we did, we would have stayed, but we couldn’t make the contribution we thought we could make…. We weren’t given the latitude we had been, and the Bush administration was interfering more and more with the ability to get the job done. There were indications things were going to be reviewed a lot more carefully, and we needed a lot more justification to bring lawsuits.” [Government Executive, 5/15/2004]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency, Bruce Buckheit, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The Washington Post publishes an editorial by New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, accusing the Bush administration of protecting predatory lenders from state officials through use of the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). Spitzer notes that since the OCC’s founding in the 1860s, its function was to monitor the records of national banks and ensure they were balanced. Yet as the current crisis in predatory lending became acute, the OCC used a clause from the 1863 National Bank Act to make all state predatory lending laws inert. In addition, Spitzer asserts that the OCC created new rules making it impossible for state officials to employ their own consumer protection laws against national banks. Spitzer continues to note that when he opened an investigation of the mortgage lending practices of several banks, the OCC brought a federal lawsuit to prevent the inquiry from moving forward. “When history tells the story of the subprime lending crisis and recounts its devastating effects on the lives of so many innocent homeowners,” Spitzer concludes, “the Bush administration… will be judged as a willing accomplice to the lenders who went to any lengths in their quest for profits.” [Washington Post, 2/14/2008]

Entity Tags: Eliot Spitzer, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

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