By Candia Dames
WASHINGTON – Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said Northeastern attorneys general were “disappointed” that Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman declined to give details on proposed Clean Air Act changes in a meeting Wednesday.
Curran said Whitman assured the attorneys general that there will be no “gutting” of the act, but offered little more.
“The devil is in the details,” Curran said after the meeting. “We were given a concept, but not the specific details.”
The hour-long meeting was called after the attorneys general turned up the heat two weeks ago on what they say will be a weakening of the Clean Air Act. They charge that the federal government is preparing to announce a plan that would lead to increased smog, acid rain and respiratory diseases.
The rollback would affect hundreds of power plants that were operating in 1970, when the act took effect. The act’s New Source Review program currently requires that those plants implement modern controls whenever they upgrade.
The attorneys general of Maryland, Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont are concerned that the EPA’s changes would undermine a lawsuit targeted at dozens of aging power plants accused of spewing tons of pollutants into the atmosphere. Maryland joined the lawsuit in 1999.
Curran said Whitman was tight-lipped on whether the proposal would change the definition of routine maintenance under the act. A widening of the definition would mean that old power plants could dodge tighter safety control regulations.
A coalition of environmental groups has said as many as 900 premature deaths in Maryland each year are linked to poor air quality. Curran said earlier this month that weakening the Clean Air Act would not be good news for 600,000 Marylanders with respiratory ailments.
“A substantial portion of pollution that is discharged from these (power) plants is carried in winds from West Virginia, Virginia and Ohio,” Curran said Wednesday. “The emissions from those smokestacks don’t just stay over those factories. They are blown directly into Maryland.”
While he was disappointed, Curran said he was thankful that Whitman at least assured the group that the proposals will not be implemented without allowing public review and suggestions.
In a 10-line statement, Whitman said work on the Clean Air Act revisions should be complete “in the next several weeks.”
“We continue to work on finalizing our report and suggested improvements to the NSR as well as our multi-emissions proposal,” her statement said. “We continue to work with the Department of Justice to enforce clean air laws including the New Source Review provisions.”