(CNSNews.com) - The Bush administration's reinterpretation of the Clean Air Act is still getting hammered by environmental groups with one expert charging that the changes allow "these old, dirty plants to profit at the expense of the health of people and parks."
However, an environmental policy expert with the free market advocacy group Competitive Enterprise Institute, said Tuesday the attacks are an attempt to "discredit Republicans on environmental issues during an election year."
The rhetoric fired up again this week as Environmental Protection Agency head Christine Todd Whitman visited the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee to promote the "Clear Skies Initiative," the Bush administration's alternative to the Kyoto Protocol.
The protocol is an international treaty to reduce greenhouse gases that are thought by many to cause global warming. President Bush rejected it, citing its cost to the American economy.
But as Whitman visited the Smokey Mountain National Park with U.S. Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) accused her of producing a "smokescreen" by defending policies that will result in "more pollution in the park."
Don Bargar, southeast regional director of NPCA, criticized what he called the "rollbacks of the Clean Air Act, an attack unprecedented in the law's 32-year history."
The administration recently announced a reinterpretation of the Clean Air Act's New Source Review policy. The changes include a grandfather provision for older plants that will allow them to undergo routine maintenance without having to meet newer emission standards. Those new standards would have required the older plants to install new pollution control machinery.
Bargar called the changes an, "ill-advised loophole in the law has allowed these old, dirty plants to profit at the expense of the health of people and parks."
"It is a shameful violation of the public trust," he added.
But Myron Ebell director of international environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, (CEI) called the attacks on the Whitman and the administration "a silly partisan attack without much basis in fact or reality."
Ebell said there is no choice but to grandfather in the emission levels on older plants because "you can't just sort of wave your wand and say they have got to be closed down."
According to Ebell, the major part of the Bush policy was simply a finalization of a 1996 Clinton administration proposal.
"Even the Clinton administration recognized they had to be grand-fathered in," he stated.
According to Ebell, environmentalists wanted all routine maintenance on older plants to trigger the stricter standards that apply to new plants.
"The Bush plan will bring cleaner air at less cost," Ebell added.
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