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HOLT ACCUSES EPA ADMINISTRATOR WHITMAN OF SYSTEMATICALLY SELLING OUT OUR NATIONAL COMMITMENT TO ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION

May 2, 2003

Washington, DC - U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (NJ-12) today strongly criticized Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Todd Whitman and the Bush Administration for their failure to protect our environment. Whitman was in Pennington, New Jersey today announcing watershed grants.

"I'm glad to see that Administrator Whitman is in Pennington announcing much-needed watershed grants. The receiving organizations no doubt will use the funds to extend the environmental fight," Holt said. "But Administrator Whitman can't hide fact that under her watch the EPA is simultaneously selling out our national commitment to environmental protection and putting lives at risk. She and the Bush Administration are undermining decades of clean water and clean air protections not to mention gutting the Superfund, removing restrictions that prevent mountain-top dumping in our nation's streams, and eliminating regulations that make mine companies clean up mine-related pollution, just to name a few. A real watershed in environmental policy occurred in 2001 when the Administration began rolling back environmental gains that had taken decades to achieve."

CLEAN WATER FUNDING REDUCED

President Bush's budget cuts the Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program, which provides loan money for improvements to wastewater treatment facilities. The President's 2004 budget provides $850 million, a 37 percent cut from the 2002 funding level.

Local governments, states, drinking water suppliers, and the EPA have all acknowledged that there is a tremendous funding gap - which will continue to grow - for drinking water infrastructure funding necessary to protect the public health. Although local governments provide more than 90% of the funding for water and wastewater systems, federal investment is crucial. According to the Wastewater Information Network, a coalition of local officials, drinking water and wastewater service providers, and environmental and health administrators, water and wastewater systems across the country will need to invest a total of more than $23 billion of new money to meet environmental and health standards in the Clean Water Act.

CLEAN AIR REQUIREMENTS RELAXED

In one of the most serious rollbacks in the history of the EPA, Administrator Whitman has proposed relaxing New Source Review rules to make it easier for polluting facilities to avoid upgrading to more environmentally responsible equipment and technology.

Rep. Rush Holt today sent a letter (see attached) to EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman urging her agency to reconsider her proposed rule changes to the Clean Air Act. Holt says Whitman's rule changes "will create gaping loopholes" and "take steps backwards, not forwards, on clean air." Today is the deadline for public comment on the proposed rule changes.

The proposed changes relate specifically to New Source Review, an important part of the Clean Air Act, which requires power plants, chemical factories, and other large industrial facilities to adopt effective emission controls when expansions or upgrades are made. Many of the plants regulated by New Source Review are located in the Midwest. According to research conducted on behalf of EPA, prevailing winds carry pollution from these plants into New Jersey causing thousands of asthma attacks and hundreds of premature deaths of New Jersey residents each year.

A SELECTION OF OTHER BUSH/WHITMAN ENVIRONMENTAL ROLLBACKS

- Rolled back regulations minimizing raw sewage discharges and
requiring public notice of overflows

- Rolled back rule prohibiting the federal government from awarding
contracts to companies that violate federal laws, including
environmental regulations

- Rolled back requirements that mining companies protect waterways
and clean up mine-related pollution

- Delayed implementation of stricter arsenic regulations for drinking
water

- Cut enforcement positions by 200 (compared to the number of
positions in 2000)

- Weakened the Clean Water Act by exempting small streams, ponds, and
creeks

- Gutted the Superfund program by eliminating "polluter pays"
principle

- Exempted oil and gas exploration from storm-water requirements

- Imposed a gag order preventing EPA officials from discussing safe
levels of perchlorate (found at DoD sites that need to be cleaned
up)

- Rolled back a 1989 federal law requiring states to test all
children on Medicaid for lead poisoning

- - -

LETTER TO EPA ADMINISTRATOR CHRISTIE WHITMAN:

May 2, 2003

Christine Todd Whitman, Administrator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Room B108
Washington, DC 20406

Dear Administrator Whitman:

I came to Congress five years ago to represent the people of the 12th District of New Jersey. It is obvious that among the more important responsibilities I have in representing my constituents is standing up for them when someone is making them sick or killing them - the way air pollution is now.

I am referring to a longstanding method used to fight this pollution - New Source Review rules, an important part of the Clean Air Act that requires power plants, chemical factories, and other large industrial facilities to adopt effective emission controls when expansions or upgrades lead to increased pollution. According to your agency, this has meant keeping 300 million tons of pollution out of the atmosphere in areas that meet national air quality standards.

But enforcement has been a significant issue for New Source Review. Plants have been avoiding compliance by describing major upgrades as "routine maintenance." The U.S. Justice Department has identified 51 plants in particular that violated NSR rules. Their violations alone have caused between 5500 and 9000 premature deaths each year, according to Abt Associates, who has done research for your agency. This includes between 200 and 304 premature deaths in New Jersey.

Then we have the health effects - between 3900 and 5700 asthma attacks caused by pollution from these plants. Those who suffer from asthma, or who have children who do, know how debilitating these attacks can be. We need to stand up for the asthma sufferers whose conditions are being exacerbated. We also need to stand up for people who have had a whole host of other respiratory and circulatory problems worsened by air pollution.

New Jersey has made significant efforts to clean up its air. But there is simply no way that the state can adequately tackle this problem - New Jersey cannot control the jet stream. Because prevailing winds carry pollution from plants in the Midwest to the East Coast, much of the smog, soot, and fine particulates that endanger the health of state residents do not come from in-state sources.

That is why the federal government needs to take an active role. This was the motivation behind the 1970 Clean Air Act and the New Source Review rules. The Clean Air Act has helped the country take major steps towards making the air we breathe better for our health. Unfortunately, however, your proposed rules will take steps backwards, not forwards, on clean air.

The proposed rule changes, buried in convoluted regulatory language, will create gaping loopholes in NSR protections. Facilities would be allowed to increase the amount of pollution they emit if the cost of making a change is less than a certain percentage of the cost of the entire facility. Thus companies can easily make incremental changes to renovate a facility without triggering NSR. And even if the cost of the upgrade does exceed the percentage trigger, plants will still not need to implement pollution controls if the upgrade consists of replacing existing equipment with new equipment performing the same function, regardless of cost.

This is simply unconscionable. NSR and other Clean Air Act provisions need to be made stronger, not weaker. The reasons could not be any simpler - people are getting sick and dying. So I must strongly disapprove of the proposed rules.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my comments. I look forward to continuing to work with the Agency to protect our environment.

Sincerely,
Representative Rush Holt
12th District, New Jersey
http://www.house.gov/rholt

Contact: Jim Kapsis, 202-225-5801, 202-413-5277 (cell)