Senate Republicans push amendments to Clean Air Act

A group of Senate Republicans is seeking to amend provisions of the Clean Air Act dealing with operating permit requirements, monitoring requirements, and vehicle and inspection maintenance mandates.

Although they describe their proposals as "limited amendments," Environmental Protection Agency officials disagree, maintaining the proposals are more than technical amendments and will have far-reaching impact on the nation's clean air laws.

The draft legislation, known as "The Clean Air Simplification and Efficiency Act of 1995," would affect the Title V Operating Permits Program; monitoring requirements; certain hazardous air pollutant requirements; the definition of "potential to emit"; the use of sanctions against states; and vehicle inspection and maintenance requirements.

The legislation is said to be driven by a belief that EPA cannot by itself effect the changes needed to address problems with the law. Eight of nine Republicans on the Environment and Public Works Committee are committed to supporting the legislation and have pledged not to propose further amendments.

EPA is said to have "serious concerns" about the legislation and is conducting a technical analysis of it. They do not see a need to reopen the Clean Air Act and undoubtedly will oppose any changes. Timing is a key element-1996 is an election year, and Republicans don't wish to be viewed as doing anything that might make them look "anti-environment." Accordingly, they would have liked to pass the legislation long before the November 1996 elections.

The proposed changes in EPA's operating permits program include limitations on the definition of what is an "applicable requirement," limitations on the agency's premodification review of permit changes, and revisions to the state permit approval process.

Permitting authorities would be prevented from requiring sources to obtain or modify permits issued under Title V "before making a physical or operational change or taking any other action." This provision would limit EPA's ability to require review and approval before businesses can make changes to processes or products needed to stay competitive and changes that would reduce emissions. Changes that are considered significant enough to require prior review under the control provisions of the Act would still be subject to prior review and approval.

The proposed amendments would also delete portions of the Clean Air Act that provide EPA with the authority to sanction states or take over their state operating permit programs as a result of defects in those programs. State programs would be deemed "presumptively acceptable," and requirements for the mandatory use of sanctions for deficiencies in the state programs would be dropped.

The proposal sets forth an "authorization checklist" that would exempt states from having to get EPA approval of operating permit programs if they meet certain requirements. It would also allow states to use their own new source review programs to approve modifications of sources.

In order for sanctions to be imposed, the proposal would require that the EPA Administrator demonstrate that a state has acted in "bad faith" before applying sanctions. However, the application of sanctions for failing to meet air quality standards would not be affected.

The amendments would also clarify congressional intent with regard to enhanced monitoring by ensuring that monitoring regulations do not require the installation of additional controls. The amendments would retain compliance certification requirements while authorizing states to impose monitoring requirements as needed to ensure compliance with control requirements.

The amendments also address requirements that states and sources must meet in controlling hazardous air pollutants. They include a proposal to clarify that, under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act, only new or reconstructed facilities would be subject to new source review requirements. They would, in addition, delete a requirement that mandates states to make case-by-case maximum achievable control technology determinations for which EPA has not set MACT standards.

The draft bill would also alter a number of air act requirements that pertain to motor vehicles.

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