The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is withdrawing a key Clean Air Act provision. They’re reversing the “once-in always-in” policy, which requires power plants to always be classified as a major source of pollution. Under the new change, if a source “limits its potential to emit below major source thresholds,” per the EPA, it can be reclassified as an area source. What’s the impact of all this? According to a statement from Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) clean air director John Walke, “This is among the most dangerous actions that the Trump EPA has taken yet against public health.”
The EPA, in their own words, is “reducing regulatory burdens.” They’re withdrawing a policy “for the classification of major sources of hazardous air pollutants under section 112 of the Clean Air Act.” According to Reuters, the “once-in always-in” policy was established in 1995. The agency said it had acted as a disincentive for sources to put pollution abatement and prevention attempts in place, “or to pursue technological innovations that would reduce hazardous air pollution emissions.” Reuters reported the petroleum industry, utilities, and others sought the withdrawal.
A major source emits or could emit 10 tons a year of any risky air pollutant, according to the EPA, or 25 tons or more of a combination of air pollutants a year. Area sources are those with emissions under that threshold, and according to Reuters, are subject to pollution control standards that aren’t as strict as those for major sources.
The NRDC doesn’t agree with the move. Walke said it would “allow the greatest increase in hazardous air pollutants in our nation’s history.”
“This move drastically weakens protective limits on air pollutants like arsenic, lead, mercury, and other toxins that cause cancer, brain damage, infertility, developmental problems, and even death,” he said in a statement. “And those harmed most would be nearby communities already suffering a legacy of pollution.”