Washington, DC — Nearly one third of all factories, power-plants and other major sources of air pollution in the US still do not have permits required under the Clean Air Act, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a consequence, many of thenation’s worst air polluters are shielded from both regulatory control and public scrutiny.
Despite a 1997 statutory deadline for issuance of all “major source” permits, the failure of EPA and its state counterparts to require permits for these air polluters has remained an open secret in agency circles. According to a never-issued October 2001 draft reportfrom EPA’s Office of Inspector General, the absence of operating permits undermines monitoring, enforcement and pollution prevention — all of the basic building blocks of an effective clean air program.
Several of the Eastern industrial states with the worst air pollution problems have the lowest rates of permit issuance. For example, New Jersey has permitted only 30 percent of its major sources; Massachusetts has permitted only 32 percent. Regionally, New England has the lowest rate, at only 41 percent, while the Rocky Mountain region has highest rate of 91 percent.
Agency sources indicate the reason so many major sources remain unpermitted is because they represent the toughest pollution problems. A December 4 statement of priorities distributed by Jeffrey Holmstead, head ofEPA’s air office, assessed the inability to meet statutory deadlines in the stationary source program (referred to as Title V of the Clean Air Act) as follows:
“We’re more than 10 years into the Title V program, yet only about two-thirds of the major sources in the country have received their Title V permits. And most of the largest, most complex (and most important ) sources remain unpermitted and are operating under the so-called application shield.”
Under the application shield, polluters are allowed to operate if they have applied for a permit; a process that the EPA Inspector General estimates takes an average of 3.2 years. EPA predicts that it may close the gap in permit issuance by 2004, at the earliest.
“The Clean Air Act must be implemented before it can be expected to work,” stated Kyla Bennett, a former EPA attorney who is Director of New England PEER. “The poor track records for the industrial New England states of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island should be setting off alarm bells.”