23 September 2002 21:26 [Source: ICIS news]
WASHINGTON (CNI)--A key Senate committee chairman wants to force the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to release documents on its rulemaking decisions in reforming the new source review (NSR) air pollution enforcement program, CNI learned Monday.
In a letter to panel members, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Jeffords (Independent-Vermont) said: "I have reluctantly concluded that the only way to obtain the information before the rules are finalised and public health may be affected is for the committee to issue subpoenas."
Jeffords charged in his letter that EPA is withholding documents at the insistence of the White House General Counsel's Office.
He said his environment committee "has the responsibility to assure that the EPA is faithfully executing the Clean Air Act so that the health of the public and the environment is protected."
The environment committee is scheduled to meet on 26 September and the subpoena is on the agenda. The committee must give its approval before Jeffords may issue the subpoena.
EPA's proposed reforms would give industrial facilities the flexibility to make some operational changes without triggering NSR requirements.
The NSR provisions of the Clean Air Act require plants that increase emissions by expanding capacity or modifying operations to install expensive new pollution controls. Industry groups have long complained that the cumbersome and costly requirements discourage them from modernising their facilities.
But environmental activists and some members of Congress charge the EPA reforms are loopholes that would result in more air pollution.
In December, Jeffords asked EPA to provide his committee with documents on the public health and environmental impacts of its proposed NSR changes.
In his letter, Jeffords said the agency responded by sending photocopies of documents already in the public record, some "privileged" documents that do little to answer questions asked by the panel and other information "unrelated to the rulemaking process."
EPA has told Jeffords it will provide more information on the rulemaking after the final rules are published. The regulations are currently under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
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