Green groups sue to stop EPA rule change for plant emissions

Green groups sue to stop EPA rule change for plant emissions
© Getty Images

A number of environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday challenging a recent administrative decision to allow certain major industrial plants to turn off some pollution controls.

The petition for review filed by the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council, among others, asks the court to reconsider the rule change by EPA that environmentalists consider a loophole for polluters under the Clean Air Act.

“Once again, the Trump administration is putting the health of polluter balance sheets over the health of our families and children,” said Mary Anne Hitt, director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, in a statement. “For decades, polluters have been able to meet this Clean Air Act requirement, and the administration’s decision to grant them this toxic loophole is as heartless as it is reckless. Real people will pay the price with this cruel decision and we will do everything we can to stop it.”

In January, the agency loosened regulatory compliance standards for certain sources of air pollution previously considered "major."

William Wehrum, head of the EPA’s air office, put out regulatory guidance repealing the “once in, always in” policy. That policy saw that facilities, such as power plants or factories, considered “major” sources of hazardous air pollutants were always regulated as such, even if the facilities’ owners took measures to reduce pollution.

Wehrum said the new guidance would "reduce regulatory burden for industries and the states, while continuing to ensure stringent and effective controls on hazardous air pollutants.”

The previous standard had been enforced since 1995. “Major” air pollution sources are subject to much stricter rules for what they must do to reduce emissions such as mercury compounds and benzene.

The EPA argued that the “once in, always in” standard disincentivized companies from reducing pollution and targeted it as part of the Trump administration’s overarching goal of cutting regulatory burdens.

The four page memorandum was published to the Federal Register without notice or a public comment period.

Environmental groups say the new changes would allow thousands of major polluters across the country to stop meeting requirements under the Clean Air Act.

“EPA is inviting companies to save a few bucks by reducing their use of pollution control systems they’ve been running for years, even if that dumps more toxic air pollution on their neighbors,” said Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) in a statement. “Let’s hope the court sees through this give-away and blocks the Trump team’s latest effort to unravel the Clean Air Act.”

A report by EIP released Monday examined how the EPA changes would effect emissions at 12 industrial facilities in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota. The group found that the policy change could allow "major" plants to quadruple their emissions of toxic air pollution.

The EPA did not return a request for comment.

Timothy Cama contributed to this report.