On Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it would roll back a 1995 regulation on major polluters known as the “once in, always in” policy.
The change would allow companies identified as “major sources” of hazardous air pollution to be reclassified as “area sources” once they’ve limited their air pollution emissions below a certain threshold.
Under the 1995 policy, once a company fell on the list of major polluters it would always be subject to “major source” air pollution standards, whether or not it addressed its pollution problems.
“This guidance is based on a plain language reading of the statute that is in line with EPA’s guidance for other provisions of the Clean Air Act,” said Bill Wehrum, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, in a news release. “It will reduce regulatory burden for industries and the states, while continuing to ensure stringent and effective controls on hazardous air pollutants.”
The change will reduce “unnecessary regulatory burdens” on businesses that may deter businesses from attempting to reduce pollution, the EPA news release said. A number of states, organizations and industries requested the change, the agency said.
But some conservationists are criticizing the change.
“This is among the most dangerous actions that the Trump EPA has taken yet against public health,” John Walke, the Natural Resource Defense Council’s clean air director, said in a statement. “Rolling back longstanding protections to allow the greatest increase in hazardous air pollutants in our nation’s history is unconscionable.”
The change will “drastically weaken” regulations meant to protect people from health problems like cancer, brain damage and infertility linked to mercury, lead, arsenic and other toxins that released into the air by major polluters, Walke said.
The rollback is an “appalling attack” on public health, John Coequyt, the global climate policy director for the environmental group Sierra Club, told CNN.
The Clean Air Act defines a “major source” of pollution as a company or facility that emits 10 tons per year of any single hazardous air pollutant, or 25 tons per year or more of a combination of hazardous air pollutants. Facilities that have the potential to emit air pollution at those levels can also be defined as major sources.
According to Thursday’s announcement, the EPA determined that it didn’t have the authority to ban facilities from being reclassified as “area sources” once their hazardous emissions fall below the major source threshold.