The Bush administration's apparent willingness to ease up on some major pollution controls for aging coal plants has thrilled industry lobbyists while drawing the ire of environmentalists and public health activists.
Detroit Edison Co. will not waver from plans to install some of the most costly and efficient pollution-trapping devices on the market - known as selective catalytic reduction equipment - at its coal-fired power plant in Monroe, according to Skiles Boyd, Detroit Edison environmental management and resources manager.
The utility still plans to make $620 million in improvements systemwide to reduce further emissions of smog-forming nitrogen oxide from its plants, regardless what happens in Washington, he said.
The majority of those improvements will be at the Monroe facility, the nation's sixth largest coal plant. The utility is staying on its schedule to install selective catalytic reduction equipment at three of the Monroe plant's four units by the spring of 2003, and at the fourth during 2004, Mr. Boyd said.
Although the regulations cover a broad spectrum of industries, aging coal plants in southern Ohio were among those affected the most.
The agency used the federal Clean Air Act as the basis for its new regulations, winning a hard-fought battle over them with utilities in the U.S. Supreme Court. Ohio was among the states that helped fund the opposition effort.
Ralph DiNicola, public relations director for Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp., which owns Toledo Edison, said the Browner-led EPA “did a radical departure” from its interpretation of the federal act during the final two years of Clinton's administration.
Others disagreed. National environmental groups, including the Clean Air Trust, claimed it's politics as usual aimed to appease lobbyists.
“We don't need to take any backward steps,” argued Jennifer Price, spokeswoman for the American Lung Association of Ohio. “The Clean Air Act is a public health law, not an industry-protection law.”
The association claims that less-restrictive controls will make breathing more difficult for a million Ohioans afflicted by some form of lung disease, particularly asthma sufferers.
“The case for keeping it the way it is is pretty compelling,” agreed Kurt Waltzer, spokesman for the Ohio Environmental Council, a statewide environmental group.
It is unclear how much a rollback could benefit Toledo Edison's Bayshore plant in Oregon, given that it has stayed current with regulations and achieved roughly a 60 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions since 1990, Mr. DiNicola said. Sulfur dioxide causes acid rain.
He said President Bush's approach could achieve similar objectives in terms of protecting the environment, while helping to keep energy production in full swing.
“We believe there's a way to continue to make improvements to the environment without threatening the nation's supply of electricity,” he said.