The Environmental Protection Agency is due to deliver documents to the committee Thursday detailing decision-making on a plan to relax former President Clinton's controls for emissions from aging coal-fired power plants and other facilities.
The studies by a consultant used by the EPA were commissioned by the Environmental Integrity Project, a group funded by the Rockefeller Family Fund and headed by Eric Schaeffer, a former chief of civil enforcement at the EPA. He released the studies Wednesday.
Cambridge, Mass.-based Abt Associates Inc. used computer modeling to look at emissions from an ExxonMobil refinery in Joliet, Ill., and a Nucor Steel plant in Crawfordsville, Ind. The modeling indicated emissions from the two facilities and others like them would have increased if the new rules were already in place.
Emissions of nitrogen oxides would have risen by a combined 125 tons per year at the refinery and at the steel mill, both which recently installed new equipment, if pollution had been measured under the proposed less stringent standards, according to the studies.
EPA spokesman Joe Martyak said the new studies are "too speculative and full of variables" to be conclusive. Bush administration and EPA officials have previously said there is no analysis showing how the new rules would impact emissions, yet they wouldn't increase air pollution.
However, Sen. James Jeffords, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee due to receive the EPA documents, said the studies confirm what he has suspected all along.
"The administration's proposal would weaken pollution controls on utilities, refineries and other major sources of pollution," Jeffords, I-Vt., said.
Sylvia Lowrance, who recently retired as the EPA's deputy chief of civil enforcement, told Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., in a letter last week that the proposed rule-making "promises to make many actions that are violations of the Clean Air Act today permissible tomorrow."
The EPA, under threat of a subpoena, planned to give Jeffords' committee members access to all the documents they requested, Martyak said.
It is preparing now to issue final clean air rules outlined in a June 13 announcement that would relax enforcement regulations. Trent Duffy, spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget, which reviews new regulations, said the final rules were "nearing completion but it hasn't been cleared yet."
David Sulc, environmental manager for the Indiana steel plant, said the computer modeling seemed accurate but noted that state pollution controls also must be considered when plants make changes that could boost emissions.
"You're only allowed so much emissions per area. It's not like you've got carte blanche," Sulc said. "States have the option of being more stringent than the federal rules if they want to be."