Public Interest Groups Call on Senate Committees to Investigate EPA Official’s False Clean Air Rule Statements

Oct. 27, 2003

Public Interest Groups Call on Senate Committees to Investigate EPA Official’s False Clean Air Rule Statements

 

States and Cities Sue to Block “New Source Review” Revision

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Twenty-one public health, environmental, labor and consumer organizations today called on two Senate committees to investigate charges that a top Bush appointee at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made untrue statements during his testimony regarding a crucial change to Clean Air Act regulations. Major contributors to the Bush campaign from the electric utility industry had been pushing for the rule changes.

 

The groups called for an investigation on the same day that the EPA published its controversial air pollution rule in the Federal Register and 12 states, the District of Columbia and several cities sued the EPA to block the rule’s implementation. The “New Source Review” rule requires power plants and industrial facilities undergoing major modifications to install modern air pollution controls.

As early as May 1999, the electric utility industry’s trade association urged members to make bundled donations to the George W. Bush fundraising machine; the industry responded by pouring $4.8 million into Bush’s 2000 election campaign, the Republican National Committee and the Bush/Cheney inaugural committee.

Three representatives from the electric utility industry were subsequently represented on the U.S. Department of Energy’s transition team, and corporations facing Clinton-era lawsuits under the NSR were granted 21 meetings with Vice President Dick Cheney’s secret energy task force. The task force’s recommendations led to EPA’s decision to weaken the rule. After the rule was issued, two key EPA officials who worked on NSR were hired by utilities facing NSR litigation or their lobbyists.

“This is the kind of contribution and payback scheme that has led the Bush administration to consistently place the interests of its industry friends over those of the public,” said Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch.

Public Citizen, Physicians for Social Responsibility and 19 other groups sent a letter calling on U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chair and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Jim Jeffords (D-Vt.), chair and ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, to investigate statements by Jeffrey Holmstead, EPA Assistant Administrator of the Office of Air and Radiation. At a July 16, 2002, joint committee hearing, Holmstead testified that the agency’s enforcement staff had concluded that existing lawsuits against electric utilities would not be jeopardized by proposed changes to the NSR rule.

In fact, as a recent Public Citizen report documented and the General Accounting Office confirmed on Oct. 26, the staff had informed Holmstead and then-EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman that the proposed NSR rule seriously endangered the enforcement cases.

The enforcement staff’s concerns were borne out on Aug. 27, less than two weeks after the new NSR rule was announced, when lawyers from the EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice litigating an enforcement lawsuit against the utility Dynegy were forced to abandon their strongest legal argument “in light of EPA’s change of position as to its interpretation of the Clean Air Act.” During post-trial arguments, lawyers for Dynegy projected that statement from government lawyers onto a courtroom screen for the judge to read.

The letter sent today, Public Citizen’s report on the New Source Review rule and a fact sheet about the role of industry money in the new rule are available at www.WhiteHouseForSale.org.

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