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DEP Holds Hearing on EPA's New Source Review Proposals Concerns Raised About Effect on New Jersey Air Quality

(03/49) TRENTON -- The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today convened a public hearing on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) new air pollution rules for power plants and other industrial facilities. The proposals would change the New Source Review (NSR) program, which requires improved air pollution controls when these facilities make modifications that result in increased emissions. The changes would greatly expand the exemptions for "routine maintenance, repair and replacement" to include activities which could increase emissions and indefinitely extend the life of high-emitting facilities. The rules, which were announced last November, were formally proposed in the Federal Register on December 31, 2002.

DEP organized the public hearing after EPA ignored the state's request for a public hearing in the state and announced that the closest of EPA's hearings would be held in Albany, New York. Governor McGreevey had requested a hearing in New Jersey last February in a letter to EPA Administrator Whitman stating "I am greatly concerned because nothing less that the health of New Jerseyans is at stake."

Approximately one-third of New Jersey's air pollution originates out-of-state. The facilities that would benefit from the new rules generate nitrogen oxide, a major contributor to the state's ozone problem, and particulate matter. Both are known triggers of asthma attacks, a major health concern in the state. Other contaminants of concern include sulfur dioxide, another asthma trigger and a contributor to acid rain; carbon dioxide, which results in climate change; and mercury, a toxic metal that has contaminated much of New Jersey's freshwater fish resulting in health advisories regarding consumption.

DEP Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell opened the hearing with a presentation reviewing the specifics of the NSR proposal and explaining the state's concern about the new rules. As the newly elected Vice-Chair of the Ozone Transport Commission (OTC), the Commissioner used the hearing as an opportunity to explain to those in attendance how much of our region's air quality problems are caused by pollution transported into the region from the west. "These new rules will have a detrimental effect on the quality of the air that every one of us breathes" he noted.

The OTC was established under the federal Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 to help develop solutions to reduce the ozone shared by all of the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic States as a result of ozone transport. The OTC's region includes Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.

The hearing was attended by a number of elected officials along with representatives of business, environmental, health and community-based organizations. Among the elected officials testifying were U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, Congressman Robert Menendez of Hoboken, Assemblymen Upendra Chiukula (Middlesex/Somerset Co.) and Joseph Cryan (Union Co.) and Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr.

Senator Lautenberg, in one of the opening statements at the hearing, set the tone for most of the comments. "These proposed changes by the EPA remove pollution regulations and are just another example of the Bush Administration's assault on New Jersey's environment." The senator went on to note that "much of the progress we made in the 90's to protect our water and our air have been reversed in order to produce larger corporate profits despite the increased health risks to our families."

U.S. Senator Jon Corzine, in written comments to the DEP, stated "Governor McGreevey and Commissioner Campbell should be commended for continuing to press for a full airing of the implications of the Bush administration's New Source Review proposal." He went on to note that "the proposals would effectively eliminate the teeth in the review program and basically favor polluters over public health. These rollbacks will have a real impact on people's lives. What we need are tougher standards and regulations, not rollbacks."

Concern over the health effects of the proposed changes was a major theme of those testifying at the hearing. "It is imperative that the EPA recognize that we do not live in isolation," said Rep. Bob Menendez. "Nearly one-third of our state's pollution does not emanate from within New Jersey, but rather from outside sources. We cannot afford the detrimental effects this ruling will have on the air our families and children breathe. Our nation's air quality is in grave danger."

Essex County Executive DiVincenzo added, "lowering the NSR standards will further pollute the air we breathe leading to more cases of asthma and lung and heart ailments. These health problems are already too high in Essex County. New Jersey residents cannot be condemned to breathing unhealthy air."

The proposed NSR rule changes have been a subject of controversy for a number of years. During her tenure as Governor, EPA Administrator Whitman recognized the contribution made by the Midwest to New Jersey's air pollution problems. "We've done much here in New Jersey to ensure that our residents can breathe clean air," Governor Whitman said in a statement. "All our efforts are fruitless, however, if New Jerseyans must breathe the dirty air coming into our state from Midwest coal-burning power plants."

Commissioner Campbell also noted the potential economic impact the NSR rule change could have for New Jersey businesses. "The rules may also adversely affect the bottom-line of every facility in the state with an air permit. If Midwest facilities that stand to benefit from this rule don't do their fair share in controlling pollution, the federal Clean Air Act may require that New Jersey businesses pick up the slack."

DEP will transcribe the testimony presented at today's hearing and submit it to EPA to be considered as part of official public comment on the proposed rules. EPA's public comment period will close on May 2, 2003.




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