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Context of 'December 2003: EPA Reviews of Some Coal Power Plants Shut Down'

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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

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

Criminal and civil environmental violations fall off sharply during the Bush administration’s first term. A study of internal Justice Department records obtained by the nonpartisan Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) shows that federal prosecutions of environmental crimes decline by 23 percent after President Bush takes office. Convictions for environmental violations are also fewer than in President Clinton’s second term, as are referrals to prosecutors by regulatory agencies. [Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, 9/19/2004] A separate study shows that civil lawsuits brought against polluters also fall dramatically during this period. In the first three years of the Bush administration, only nine suits to enforce the Clean Air Act are filed by the EPA, compared to 61 in the three years prior to Bush taking office. EPA litigation to enforce the Clean Water Act declines by over 39 percent over the same period. [Environmental Integrity Project, 10/12/2004] The study is compiled by Eric Schaeffer, the former director of the EPA Office of Regulatory Enforcement who resigns from his post in 2002 (see February 27, 2002)

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

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

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