EPA Clears the Air for Polluters on U.S. Factory Emissions Rules

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(Bloomberg) -- Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has issued a new directive that clarifies a powerful but technical facet of the Clean Air Act, completing a trifecta of high-profile changes to the way EPA oversees conventional air pollution.

Tuesday’s action takes the form of guidance to regulated industries, which include iron and steel, paper, forestry, refiners and manufacturing.

Pruitt highlighted his agency’s work on the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review provision during an interview Tuesday with Bloomberg News, stressing it is part of an effort to bring more certainty to companies.

“Here are companies across the country that are wanting to spend, in many instances, hundreds of millions of dollars on improving outcomes at their facilities with respect to emission-controls. And they feel like if they spend too much, it triggers new permitting responsibilities,” he said.

When a major polluting facility expands its capacity, the EPA requires that companies analyze whether the work will result in significant new emissions. If it does, the "New Source Review" provision requires pollution controls to help keep the air clean. The EPA’s new guidance resolves what for many industries -- for many years -- has been a frustration. In short, they contend the calculations required by EPA give insufficient weight to decreases in pollution that may also result from the new construction. The new guidance allows companies to include emission decreases at the same step they calculate increases.

The issue has been simmering for more than 15 years, since the EPA under President George W. Bush issued New Source Review recommendations in 2002. In 2006, his administration proposed something similar to Tuesday’s action, along with two related provisions. But it rescinded the proposal days before it left office in 2009.

Pruitt in December issued a memo clarifying another portion of New Source Review governing how companies make projections of future emissions from an upgraded facility. A second guidance, issued in January, reversed a longstanding EPA practice that prevented facilities designated as “major sources” of pollution from being re-classified as more minor “area sources.”

"Most businesses, most states, most individuals want to do the right thing," Pruitt said. They care about the air they breathe, the water they drink. And that we need to see them as partners, working together to ensure good outcomes."

John Walke, director of clean air programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that Pruitt’s practice of issuing guidance -- rather than new regulations -- circumvents actual rules that can then be tried in court. Pruitt’s actions ostensibly legitimizes changes long-sought by industry, through memoranda instead of rules.

“The air will be dirtier thanks to industry taking advantage of this new kind of amnesty,” he said.

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