Washington, D.C. » The Environmental Protection Agency is finalizing new air quality rules that will make it easier to build coal-fired power plants, oil refineries and other major polluters near national parks and wilderness areas, despite the fact that half of EPA's 10 regional administrators have formally dissented from the decision and another four criticized the move in writing.
Documents obtained by The Washington Post show that the Bush administration's push to weaken Clean Air Act protections for "Class 1 areas" nationwide has sparked fierce resistance from senior agency officials. All but two of the regional administrators objecting to the proposed rule are political appointees.
The proposal would change the current practice of measuring pollution levels near national parks, which is currently done over three hour and 24-hour increments in order to capture emission spikes during periods of peak energy demand, and instead average the levels over a year. Under this system, the spikes in pollution would no longer violate the law.
In a series of written submissions, EPA regional administrators have argued this switch would undermine critical air quality protections for parks such as Virginia's Shenandoah, which is frequently plagued by smog and poor visibility.
EPA Region 8 acting administrator Carol Rushin, whose office covers Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Montana, North and South Dakota, wrote that the rule provides "inappropriate discretion" when calculating pollution levels.