New York's attorney general said Thursday he wants to take over investigations of possible clean air violations that stand a good chance of being dropped by the Environmental Protection Agency under new rules for older power plants, refineries and factories.
"By saying they won't proceed, they're saying, 'Nevermind.' They're saying, 'Get out of jail free,' " Eliot Spitzer said in an interview with Associated Press. "I'm saying, 'We're happy to do your work for you. If you don't wish to bring these cases, we will.' These are good cases. We'll take the cases they've let slide."
The EPA announced Wednesday it will take a case-by-case approach in deciding whether to pursue or set aside Clean Air Act enforcement investigations into dozens of coal-burning power plants and other industrial facilities around the country, but will continue pressing enforcement cases in which violations of the act already were filed.
"Cases that are in the pipeline that have not been filed are going to be analyzed to see if they should be pursued or set aside," EPA spokeswoman Lisa Harrison told AP Thursday. "There's a very good chance that a number of them will be set aside."
Democrats, meanwhile, called for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing on the EPA's decision. Democrats also asked the agency's inspector general to launch an investigation.
During the Clinton administration, the EPA and the Justice Department began suing 51 aging power plants under the Clean Air Act and succeeded in forcing several to install pollution-control equipment that reduced millions of tons of pollutants annually.
Starting last year, the Bush administration issued changes to those Clean Air Act rules to make it easier for industrial plants and refineries to modernize without having to buy expensive pollution controls. States immediately began suing over the changes.
The changes affect the way older industrial plants have to deal with air pollution when they expand, make major repairs or modify operations to increase efficiency. They allow companies to change how they measure their pollution and categorize "routine maintenance" that doesn't trigger the need for more controls.
Spitzer said the EPA should turn over its enforcement files against the utilities, power plants and other facilities to state officials so they can use the information in possible prosecutions.