Washington, DC - Brushing aside the criticism of its own staff experts, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved a new form of "interpollutant" credit trading designed to bypass New Source Review, according to internal documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).The plan allows Louisiana oil and chemical companies to emit more carcinogenic and other hazardous chemicals in return for cutting less dangerous nitrogen oxide emissions.
According to internal EPA documents, staff protests that the plan violates agency guidelines are being overridden. One memo decries "levels of obfuscation that would make an Enron attorney proud." Among the deficiencies cited by staff are -
Failure to ensure that trades will result in net reductions in pollution;
Absence of safeguards to prevent double-counting and other illegitimate trades; and
Inability of state authorities to reliably monitor industry exchanges.
Another concern is that increased emissions of hazardous air pollutants will be concentrated in the predominantly African-American lower Mississippi Basin that already suffers from high pollution. EPA staff contends that this aspect of the plan violates agency environmental justice policies.
EPA's action coincides with rising congressional consternation about abandoning New Source Review, a process that ensures changes in plant operations are subject to state-of-the-art emission controls. Louisiana's "interpollutant" trading plan also surfaces just as agency efforts to promote "open market trading" of air pollution credits are crumbling and less than a month after EPA's own Office of Inspector General slammed lack of controls and enforcement to prevent abuse in early trading schemes.
"This plan means people in the Baton Rouge air basin will be forced to inhale additional tons of hazardous chemicals unleavened by any meaningful mitigation," commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch whose organization represents whistleblowers inside EPA."Despite an overwhelming case for additional safeguards, EPA proposes to place more reliance on a Louisiana emissions bank that has never been audited and overseen by a state agency with one of the worst enforcement records in the country."