A Senate panel is drafting legislation that would allow the Environmental Protection Agency to suspend any anti-pollution regulations for 120 days to help in the recovery from Hurricane Katrina, an environmental group said on Thursday.
WASHINGTON A Senate panel is drafting legislation that would allow the Environmental Protection Agency to suspend any anti-pollution regulations for 120 days to help in the recovery from Hurricane Katrina, an environmental group said on Thursday.
According to a draft two-page bill obtained by Reuters from the group, the measure would let the EPA administrator "waive or modify the application of any requirement in any law, including a regulation" under the jurisdiction of the agency.
Such environmental regulation suspensions must be "necessary to respond, in a timely and effective manner, to a situation or damage relating to Hurricane Katrina," according to the draft bill prepared by the Senate Environment Committee.
A copy of the draft bill was made available by Clear Air Watch, a group that wants stricter anti-pollution limits for utilities and industrial plants.
The draft language did not identify any specific environmental regulations or laws that could be suspended under the legislation. It set a 120-day period for any rollbacks, but said the EPA administrator could ask Congress to extend that period, if justified.
"This could become a blank check for big polluters. It would also be a terrible precedent," said Frank O'Donnell, head of Clean Air Watch.
A spokesman for the Senate Energy Committee confirmed that legislation was being prepared.
"It's unconscionable that groups would criticize anything that would facilitate clean-up efforts in New Orleans," the spokesman said. "The legislation is purely about providing the EPA the clarity and certainty they will need down the road ... to ensure timely and effective response."
The Senate panel was expected to complete its version of the bill this week, according to a congressional source.
Soon after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi on Aug. 29 with deadly winds and flooding, the EPA temporarily suspended some air pollution regulations for gasoline nationwide, allowing dirtier fuel to be released to the market through Sept. 15. That waiver was extended on Wednesday for California, eastern Texas and Phoenix.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, has called for Congress to permanently repeal environmental requirements for various types of gasoline in urban markets, saying the requirements contribute to tight supplies and high prices.
The group also blames EPA regulations for discouraging U.S. energy companies from building new oil refineries to keep up with growing gasoline demand.