Friday, June 29, 2007

Industry, environmentalists square off at hearing on Bush sweetheart deal for power plants

WASHINGTON (AP) - Environmentalists and electric utilities face off Friday at a hearing on an industry-favored proposal to change how the government decides when pollution controls are needed at older power plants.

The proposal, released by the Environmental Protection Agency in April, is the latest twist in a long debate about requirements that utilities install expensive pollution control equipment. The hearing is at 9 a.m. Friday at the EPA's office in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Industry officials say the EPA's proposal would give utilities such as Southern Co. and Duke Energy Corp. needed flexibility to make improvements to their plants.

Environmentalists, who accuse the Bush Administration environmental regulators of being too close to industry, say the proposed pollution standard flouts the spirit of a recent Supreme Court ruling on clean air enforcement and would make it easier for utilities to produce more electricity without installing new pollution controls.

The EPA proposal would allow the use of average hourly smokestack emissions when determining whether a plant's expansion or efficiency improvements require additional pollution controls. Environmentalists long have contended the EPA should continue using annual emissions to determine whether new pollution controls are needed under the Clean Air Act.

"It's essentially an attempt to create a giant new loophole that could lead to more pollution," Frank O'Donnell, president of the nonprofit Clean Air Watch.

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