Douglas critical of relaxed clean air rules

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(Host) Governor-elect Jim Douglas disagrees with the Bush administration over a plan to relax air pollution rules.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The Bush administration moved to weaken the air pollution standards a few weeks after the mid-term election. Under the plan, older factories and power plants can modernize their operations and still be exempt from Clean Air Act requirements.

Critics say the change in regulation means more pollution will blow into the region from the industrial Midwest. Governor-elect Jim Douglas says the proposal will hurt Vermont and the Northeast.

(Douglas) “I’ve expressed my opposition to those changes several months ago when they were first proposed. I explained to folks at the White House that, although I’m a strong supporter of the president, there are times when I will differ from him on various matters of public policy. And these proposed in the air emissions standards are one.”

(Dillon) Nine states, including Vermont, have gone to court to block the rule change. Douglas says he supports the litigation.

Vermont environmental officials say there are two problems with the White House proposal. Natural Resources Secretary Scott Johnstone says his first concern is public health. The dirty air that will flow into the region will raise ozone levels, which can trigger asthma attacks and other lung problems.

The second problem has to do with the way air pollution regulations are written. Federal law makes states responsible for cleaning up the air overhead, even if the pollution flows in from outside the region. Officials say it’s as if somebody dumped a load of garbage on your lawn. It’s not your trash, but you still have to clean it up.

Johnstone says the out-of-state air pollution could force state regulators to clamp down on businesses inside Vermont:

(Johnstone) “It then begins to have a economic development impact on your state because you end up with a whole different regulatory realm that you have to deal with when permitting new projects. So from every angle, from an environmental, from a human health, from an economic development angle, the lessening of these air regulations on old power plants that should have cleaned themselves up a long time ago, just really hurts Vermont in every way you can imagine.”

(Dillon) Vermont and other states are also concerned because the EPA may soon impose stricter standards for certain air pollutants. That means it will be more difficult for states to comply with the Clean Air Act, even without the pollution blowing in from the Midwest.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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