WASHINGTON – Legislation that would allow the Environmental Protection Agency to temporarily suspend or relax its rules because of Hurricane Katrina (search) is being prepared by the Republican chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
The proposal is being readied despite EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson's assurance he has no immediate need for any regulatory waivers. Johnson gave a closed-door briefing Wednesday to the committee's chairman, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, and other committee members.
Johnson told them he wasn't aware of anything he needed at this point, Bill Holbrook, the committee's spokesman, said Thursday.
"But he also said there are still a number of unknowns and couldn't project what he would need considering those unknowns," Holbrook said.
Using existing authority, EPA has already suspended some of its clean-air (search) requirements in the aftermath of Katrina to ease the flow of gasoline supplies.
A preliminary draft of Inhofe's bill proposes giving the EPA (search) administrator power for 120 days to "waive or modify" any of EPA's laws and regulations if it's thought to be "necessary to respond, in a timely and effective manner, to a situation or damage relating to Hurricane Katrina." Governors of affected states would have to be consulted, but the EPA administrator would have final say, according to the draft bill, still being worked on.
Environmentalists denounced the emerging proposal. "Here comes the mother of all environmental rollbacks," said Frank O'Donnell, president of the Clean Air Watch advocacy group. "This could become a blank check for big polluters. It would also be a terrible precedent."