NYT: EPA to limit ability to oppose pollution permits

The Environmental Protection Agency is working to change rules that allow individuals or community advocates to fight agency-issued permits that regulate how much pollution can be released by area power plants and factories, The New York Times reported.

The Times, citing conversations with three unnamed people familiar with the plans, said the potential changes could come as early as this week. According to the paper, the regulations, which were created during George H. W. Bush’s administration, allowed individuals or community advocates to appeal the permits before a panel of judges within the agency. The changes would eliminate that ability but allow the permit holders to “appeal to the panel, known as the Environmental Appeals Board, to allow them to increase their pollution,” according to the paper.

The Times’ report, published Friday, said the documents for the changes have “been largely completed,” and “the next step would be to announce the proposed rule change and seek public comment,” a period the paper said could last 60 to 90 days.

Patrice Simms, a former staff lawyer for the agency’s appeals board who now works as an environmental attorney, and Richard Lazarus, an environmental law professor at Harvard, told the paper that the potential changes could give companies “a broader role in influencing the EPA to issue more lenient pollution permits,” and could be especially harmful to “poor and minority communities, which are statistically more likely to be located near polluting sites.”

“What EPA is proposing means communities and families no longer have the right to appeal a pollution permit that might affect them,” Simms said, according to the Times. He added that when the EPA issues pollution permits, “they may or may not get it right,” according to the paper.

“This is outrageous,” Lazarus told the Times. “Individuals in communities will lose a way to seek relief from pollution that has historically been very effective. But industry will still be able to seek relief to pollute more.”

Industry lawyers told the paper that the potential changes “would eliminate burdensome red tape, speeding up a process that is ultimately decided by the courts anyway.”

“Often the Environmental Appeals Board is just sort of an expensive and time-consuming stop along the way to the court of appeals,” Russell Frye, an attorney for companies that have received and appealed the permits, told the Times. “This would eliminate that step for my clients.”