Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Take a deep breath...

and try to hold it until January 20, 2005.

Lawyers at E.P.A. Say It Will Drop Pollution Cases

WASHINGTON, Nov. 5 — A change in enforcement policy will lead the Environmental Protection Agency to drop investigations into 50 power plants for past violations of the Clean Air Act, lawyers at the agency who were briefed on the decision this week said.

The lawyers said in interviews on Wednesday that the decision meant the cases would be judged under new, less stringent rules set to take effect next month, rather than the stricter rules in effect at the time the investigations began.

The lawyers said the new rules include exemptions that would make it almost impossible to sustain the investigations into the plants, which are scattered around the country and owned by 10 utilities.

The lawyers said the change grew out of a recommendation by Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force, which urged the government two years ago to study industry complaints about its enforcement actions. The Bush administration has said its goal is to ensure cost-effective improvements to air quality.

Congressional critics, environmental groups and officials in some Northeast states described the change as a major victory for the utility industry and a defeat for environmentalists, who had viewed the cases as the best way to require the companies to install billions of dollars of new pollution controls.

Representatives of the utility industry have been among President Bush's biggest campaign donors, and a change in the enforcement policies has been a top priority of the industry's lobbyists.

In a statement, the E.P.A. said that it had not made a formal decision to drop all the investigations and that it would review each "on a case-by-case basis to determine whether it will be pursued or set aside."

I wonder if that case-by-case review will involve a comparison to donor records.

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