GAO: New Clean Air Rules Will Worsen Pollution

Most state environmental officials believe the Bush administration's proposed changes to clean air rules will result in more air pollution (search), according to a survey by congressional auditors.

The General Accounting Office (search), the investigative arm of Congress, said 27 of 44 state offices responding to its survey believe the Environmental Protection Agency's new regulations regarding when old coal-burning power plants do or don't have to install new pollution controls will result in more pollution.

The GAO submitted questions to the state agencies charged with managing clean air regulations, based on a request by Sens. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and James Jeffords, I-Vt. The agency's report was released Friday.

The 27 state officials "expected the rule to increase emissions of harmful air pollutants, thereby hindering areas' efforts to meet air quality standards and potentially creating or exacerbating public health risks," the GAO report found.

That belief contradicts the Environmental Protection Agency's (search) determination that the rule will decrease emissions.

Five state officials agreed with EPA's assertion that pollution will fall with the new regulations. The remaining state officials responding to the GAO survey thought pollution would remain the same or were unsure.

The new regulations adopted last October would allow some older power plants, refineries and factories to modernize without having to install expensive pollution controls.

A federal appeals court has blocked the new rules temporarily until it rules on a suit by 14 states and several cities challenging the changes. Four of those states declined to participate in the GAO survey because they are participants in the litigation.

The congressional auditors conceded that it is too early to know for certain what the actual impact on air quality will be.

In responding to the report, the EPA's assistant administrator for air quality, Jeffrey Holmstead, said GAO had "in some instances, used the opinions expressed in the survey responses as if they were fact."

Holmstead said the survey "does not assure balance and objectivity" in cataloguing the opinions of interested parties.