EPA Accused of Making Promises It Can’t Keep

Letters have been dispatched from the desk of Environmental Protection Agency administrator Carol Browner in a last-ditch effort to garner support for the agency’s proposed National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone and particulate matter, according to Citizens for a Sound Economy, a Washington-based free-market advocacy group. “Given the enormous unpopularity of the proposed regulations, Administrator Browner has found it necessary to make promises of leniency — promises that could very well be illegal,” said CSE vice president Matt Kibbe.

CSE cited a June 5 letter in which Browner told Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman that farming would not be targeted under EPA’s stringent proposed air-quality standards. The letter refers to a growing concern among agricultural organizations and members of Congress over reports that federal and state regulators enforcing new standards would tell farmers how and when to plow, cultivate and harvest as a way of reducing dust kicked up by farming activities. Wrote Browner, “Recently, there have been a number of reports mischaracterizing the effects these proposed (rules) would have on agriculture.”

“EPA will work with states to focus any ozone emissions reductions strategies on sources located in urban and highly populated areas including power plants, motor vehicles, and large industrial facilities. Ozone control strategies will not focus on agricultural sources,” she wrote. Continuing with promises to Glickman, Browner wrote that “if EPA does add a PM 2.5 standard, I intend to issue guidance to the states to ensure that in meeting that standard they focus their control strategies on sources of fine, rather than coarse particles. Thus, if we establish a new PM 2.5 standard, EPA would not focus regulatory attention on farming and tilling.”

A June 11 letter by Rep. John Dingell, ranking member of the U.S. House Commerce Committee, and Rep. Ron Klink detail how the EPA, in an effort to bolster support for proposed revisions to the NAAQS, reassured certain mayors and other local officials that the agency would not require jurisdictions to take any additional steps even if an area were found to violate the new ozone standard, CSE revealed. The Congressmen cite a letter from EPA assistant administrator Mary Nichols to Rep. Dennis Kucinich asserting that an automobile manufacturing plant and an automobile casting plant in his Ohio district would not have to put on additional controls even if the plants are located in counties found to be violating any new ozone standard.

Dingell and Clink wrote in their letter to Browner, “We are concerned with these assertions both because we question EPA’s legal authority to suspend Clean Air Act requirements and because of the appearance that EPA is seemingly trying to win support for its proposals through extra-legal promises of leniency for selected areas during implementation of the standards.”

Citizens for a Sound Economy, which opposes the proposed air quality standards, advocates the collection of more data before implementing new standards. “The EPA should not be in the business of making sweetheart promises it cannot hope to keep,” Kibbe concluded.