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Thursday, April 14, 2005

House Energy Bill Would Mean More Dirty Air

Clean Air Watch
1090 Vermont Avenue, NW, Suite 800Washington, DC 20005(202) 558-3527

For Immediate Release Contact: Frank O’Donnell (202-558-3527 or
202-302-2065)

CLEAN AIR WATCH WARNS:
HOUSE ENERGY BILL WOULD MEAN MORE DIRTY AIR

(Washington, DC. April 14, 2005) – The non-profit Clean Air Watch today warned that energy legislation approved last night by a House committee would mean continuing air pollution problems for tens of millions of Americans in communities ranging from Dallas-Fort Worth to greater Connecticut.

The controversial legislation includes a provision that would encourage the U.S. EPA to extend the deadline in many communities for meeting national health-based standards for ozone, or smog. The provision was endorsed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), an outspoken advocate of the delay.

“If this provision became law, it would be the biggest weakening of the Clean Air Act in decades,” warned Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch. “Many millions of Americans would suffer from dirty air as a result.”

O’Donnell noted the bad-air provision would turn EPA’s recent “clean air interstate rule” on its head: That rule was aimed at making it easier for states to meet clean air standards in a timely way, though EPA acknowledged it would be inadequate to do the job. EPA emphasized in the rule that state governments would still be responsible for cleaning up the rest of the dirty air.

The new House provision would enable states to use the EPA interstate rule as an excuse: They could say that where the reductions were inadequate – and this is projected to include states from Illinois to the East Coast -- breathers in downwind states would be forced to breathe dirty air longer.

“In effect it would become a Catch-22 plan for dirty air,” O’Donnell said. “No state would have to meet the standards until states upwind of it did.”

Some states are already beginning to use this excuse to argue for extended deadlines. The head of Ohio’s state EPA, for example, asserted last Sunday that, despite the EPA interstate rule, his state could not meet smog standards on time because of pollution being blown in from other states. (Simultaneously, Ohio is seeking to eliminate some local smog controls.) Allowing more pollution in Ohio, of course, would also harm breathers in such downwind states as Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Connecticut.

The legislation is expected to go to the House floor next week.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Deadline extensions sought

Posted on Fri, Apr. 01, 2005
By Scott StreaterStar-Telegram Staff Writer

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton wants to include a provision in upcoming energy legislation allowing Dallas-Fort Worth and other smoggy regions of the country to miss deadlines mandating compliance with federal ozone standards.

Dallas-Fort Worth faces a 2010 deadline to comply with ozone regulations or face severe sanctions, including the potential loss of hundreds of millions in federal highway transportation dollars.

The proposal being pushed by Barton, R-Ennis, would allow the federal Environmental Protection Agency to extend deadlines in areas that can prove they're affected by pollution that blows in from other cities and states.

Dallas-Fort Worth officials have long claimed that pollution from Louisiana, and even from Houston 250 miles to the southeast, is at least partly to blame for the region's poor air quality.

Barton's Energy and Commerce Committee is expected this month to begin debating the controversial energy bill, which has been stalled in Congress the past two years. The deadline extension proposal is included in a "discussion draft" that Barton's committee will use to craft a formal bill for the full House to consider.

The deadline extension option would provide breathing room for regional leaders struggling to lower Metroplex ozone -- among the worst in the nation.

But local health officials and environmental leaders argue that the proposal will delay efforts to clean the air, exposing Dallas-Fort Worth residents to dirty air for a longer period of time.

At high enough concentrations, ozone can trigger asthma attacks and aggravate the conditions of those suffering from emphysema, bronchitis and other respiratory diseases.

"I think that it's just another move to delay compliance," said Tessie Holloway, regional executive director of the American Lung Association of Texas. "The important thing for us as health-care advocates is that asthma rates continue rising, the number of emergency room visits annually continues getting larger, and this [proposal] doesn't help."

This marks the fourth time Barton has proposed legislative action to allow extending the ozone-compliance deadlines, according to his office.

Larry Neal, Barton's spokesman, defended the proposal. In a written statement, he said Barton believes that it has bipartisan support and that the issue has not "prevented the bill from becoming law."

If approved, the proposal would re-establish an EPA policy adopted in 1998 allowing ozone-compliance deadlines to be extended in regions and cities that are unable to comply because of pollution that's generated "upwind" of the area.

Three federal court rulings have overturned the EPA policy of granting deadline extensions in the Beaumont-Port Arthur area, St. Louis and Washington, D.C. The reason: it violates the Clean Air Act.

Those rulings killed a similar EPA decision to extend an old ozone compliance deadline in Dallas-Fort Worth.

If Congress allows them to, however, EPA officials in the regional office in Dallas have said they'll extend deadlines in North Texas if needed.

That possibility upsets Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, a nonprofit advocacy group in Washington.

He accuses Barton and the EPA of supporting the creation of a "giant loophole" that essentially renders federal health-based ozone standards meaningless.