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Dirty Work

The Bush administration discreetly published its final changes to the Clean Air Act on New Year’s Eve, and attorneys general from nine Northeast states quickly filed a lawsuit in federal court.

The nine state attorneys general, including New York’s Eliot Spitzer, filed their lawsuit on the grounds that changes made to the new source review element of the Clean Air Act—which determines the amount of money that power plant owners can invest on-site before having to install more pollution controls—will lead to dirtier air, and are therefore in violation of the federal Clean Air Act.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s updated rules for new source review, businesses are allowed “more flexibility to respond to rapidly changing markets and to plan for future investments in pollution control and prevention technologies.” But Mark Violette, a spokesman for Spitzer, said the changes let the fox guard the chicken coop.

“It allows the polluter to decide when the law applies to them,” said Violette. “I wish I had that power with the IRS.”

Aside from placing too much power in the hands of polluters, the attorneys general claim the changes to the Clean Air Act would present more of a problem for northeastern states due to prevailing winds.

“In New York, we are tremendously blessed by nature,” Violette said, “but at the same time we are cursed by nature to a certain degree. We are the last stop for air currents that blow across the Midwest picking up pollution, and this can be related to health problems and acid rain.”

The attorneys general claim that since 1970, presidents from both Republican and Democratic administrations have either strengthened the Clean Air Act or left it alone. The Bush administration, they contend, is the first in three decades to “gut key components of the Clean Air Act.”

Further, Violette said, the timing of the administration’s announcement “was dreadful,” and should be viewed for the admission of guilt that it is.

“They announced these new rules right at Thanksgiving and then formally published them on New Year’s Eve,” Violette said, “clearly hoping that the public at large would be distracted and not paying attention to the news. If they actually believed that these changes would be better for the environment, they would’ve held a high-profile press conference.”

—Travis Durfee

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