Herrera Challenges Bush Administration Over Clean Air Rules

Concerned Over Local Effects, San Francisco Challenges U.S. EPA Rules Allowing Relaxed Requirements For Existing Power Plants

City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced today that the City and County of San Francisco joined the City of New York and numerous other municipalities in a challenge to the Bush Administration’s new EPA rules that relax pollution standards for air pollution sources such as power plants. At least 10 states, including California, have also filed suit. Among the many threats these changes pose to the City, is that the new rules would permit air pollution sources, such as the Potrero power plant, to avoid cleaning up emissions if the plant owner makes proposed modifications.

Effective December 31, 2002, the Bush Administration’s EPA relaxed “new source review” or “NSR” rules enacted by Congress in 1977 that required existing air pollution sources to go through a review whenever the plant made significant modifications. The goal was to force old plants to comply with newer, clean air standards. EPA’s new rules will make it easier for existing polluting plants to make physical changes that increase air pollution and prolong the useful life of the plants without meeting the tougher clean air standards.

San Francisco filed its petition challenging the EPA’s new rules because City residents, especially those living in the southeast corner of the City, could be particularly harmed by increased pollution from facilities that are not upgraded.

“The City has worked hard to help ensure the Clean Air Act’s promise of improved air quality,” said City Attorney Dennis Herrera. “The proposed rules contradict common sense policy and roll back air quality gains, not just for the City but for the whole country. As a father raising a child in the southeast corner of this City, I share the concerns of parents about the effect of air pollution on our children.”

Under the new EPA Rules, Mirant, the company that operates the Potrero power plant, would have greater latitude to modify its power plant with out triggering the review requirements even if the modification results in an increase in air pollution that would have triggered a review under the old rules.

Studies have shown that air pollution from power plants such as the Potrero plant cause increased hospital admissions and mortality rates and significantly exacerbate the symptoms of those suffering from asthma. The increased hospitalization rate will increase the costs to the City since the City operates various public hospital and clinics.

While the EPA has claimed that its revised regulations would not result in increased pollution, this claim is belied by the rules themselves, and the evidence before the EPA did not support it when it considered the rule changes. In addition, the rule changes are contrary to the Clean Air Act’s intent to reduce pollution over time, as well several Court decisions interpreting the Act.

There is a considerable body of scientific research demonstrating that particulate matter, ozone and other air pollutants, can cause asthma attacks and other health problems. Increases in this pollution will have a harmful effect on the health of City residents. This impact would be especially great in vulnerable populations, including children and adults who have been diagnosed with asthma.

In a report released by the EPA on February 24, 2003, EPA acknowledged that reducing air emission from utilities by 70% would reduce asthma attacks and respiratory illness.

The case will be handled for the City by Deputy City Attorneys Judy Boyajian and Rona Sandler.