Air | Ecotrope

A preview of the EPA under pressure?

Ecotrope | Dec. 8, 2010 5:04 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:43 p.m.

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Why did the Environmental Protection Agency really delay its new boiler pollution rules? Bradford Plumer of The New Republic writes it could be a reaction to anti-EPA sentiment among the new Republican leadership in Congress, and a preview of how environmental policy will be affected over the next two years:

“The EPA just announced that it is asking for a year-long delay in crafting new rules that would lower toxic pollution from industrial boilers and solid-waste incinerators. The D.C. District Court had given the EPA until January 16, 2011, to set new standards that would reduce mercury and soot pollution from sources like oil refineries and paper mills. This isn’t just some abstract tree-hugging measure; it would arguably do more for public health than any section of Obamacare: EPA experts found that cutting toxic pollution could prevent 5,000 deaths and 36,000 asthma attacks each year. (All told, the rule would have cost an estimated $6.4 billion each year while delivering between $138 billion and $334 billion in annual health benefits — not a bad deal.) But the affected industries all griped that the costs were way too burdensome and buried the EPA in angry comments.

Now, EPA officials say they’re seeking a delay because all those comments made them realize that the air-toxics rule could be structured more carefully. That’s plausible. But it’s also true that the agency has been under excruciating political pressure of late. Nearly 100 lawmakers have complained about the boiler rules. The likely new head of the House energy committee, Fred Upton, has bashed the standards and is promising to drag EPA head Lisa Jackson in for enhanced interrogation. (Upton’s concern? The Council of Industrial Boiler Owners thinks the costs will be far greater than EPA is projecting. It’s worth noting that, historically, pollution rules tend to be cheaper than even the EPA expects.) And House Republicans will have a say in the agency’s budget going forward, so Jackson can’t just ignore them.”

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