Thursday, September 15, 2005

News Flash: Inhofe preps overkill waiver of environmental standards, using Katrina as pretext

Many reporters have written stories in recent days about efforts to revive bad ideas or to relax environmental requirements in light of the Katrina catastrophe.

But here comes the mother of all environmental rollbacks. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) has drafted legislation that would permit the EPA to waive or modify ANY requirement in ANY law under EPA’s jurisdiction for up to 120 days in the aftermath of the hurricane.

This could become a blank check for big polluters. It would also be a terrible precedent. (There is also no reason to think 120 days would be a time limit if something like this became law. EPA has waived some fuel standards temporarily – and just renewed the waiver when the original deadline ran out. See more below.)

Ironically, just yesterday, EPA Administrator Steve Johnson reportedly told Inhofe privately that no such waiver authority is needed to deal with the continuing crisis.

Johnson held a closed-door briefing with Inhofe and other members of his Senate and Public Works Committee. We are told that Johnson said he was "...not aware of any emergency [additional legislative] waivers that are required..."

Stay tuned.

One footnote: as you are aware, EPA has granted some temporary waivers of diesel and other fuel requirements. Some of these may be reasonable as quick emergency measures, but lengthy delays could entail big health and economic downsides. For example, more than a couple of tanks full of high-sulfur diesel fuel could ruin pollution controls used on diesel school buses and other diesel equipment. There are literally tens of thousands of diesel catalysts and filters in use today. Ruining them with dirty fuel would mean school kids and others would be stuck breathing noxious diesel exhaust. And who would replace the equipment if destroyed?

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