WASHINGTON – Maryland joined nine other states Thursday in asking a federal judge to stop the Bush administration from relaxing industrial pollution restrictions next month.
Attorneys general in the 10 states filed suit in December arguing the Environmental Protection Agency lacks legal authority under the Clean Air Act to implement the exceptions to what is called the New Source Review program.
“A stay is necessary to protect not only public health, but also public resources and the environment,” according the motion, which included the signature of Kathy M. Kinsey, Maryland assistant attorney general.
The Maryland Attorney General’s office did not return calls for comment Thursday.
Bush administration officials have argued the suit is politically motivated and that the rule change will have no negative effect on the environment or public health.
The New Source Review program was enacted as part of the Clean Air Act in 1977, according to the state’s request. It requires facilities, such as coal- burning power plants, to install up-to-date pollution controls when they upgrade their facilities.
The states’ motion asks the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to stop the new rules before they take effect March 3.
“If the rules are allowed to be implemented March 3, the states will suffer irreparable harm both to the public health and to the environment,” said Marc Violette, spokesman for New York attorney general’s office, which is leading the legal action.
Specifically, the rule change could confuse state agencies that regulate air quality, Violette said, and it could increase respiratory illnesses, smog and acid rain.
But the Edison Electric Institute, which represents power plant owners, argues the states’ concerns are unfounded.
“Even if the New Source Review program were erased from the books tomorrow, we are under so many additional regulatory programs that . . . our industry’s emissions would continue to come down,” said Dan Riedinger, an institute spokesman.
No judge or panel of judges has been assigned to the case, Violette said.
EPA is expected to respond to the motion by Feb. 19, although that response could simply ask for more time to prepare a reply, Violette said.
EPA officials also did not return calls for comment Thursday.
The rule could be particularly important to the Baltimore and Washington areas, which the EPA has designated as being in “severe” noncompliance with the Clean Air Act.
Opponents of the rule change say it will result in more pollution blowing into Maryland from power plants as far away as Ohio.
Tad Aburns, manager of air quality programs for Maryland’s Department of the Environment, recently called this “transport pollution” the state’s biggest pollution problem.
In the past few years, states have filed lawsuits against dozens of polluters under existing New Source Review rules.