|NEW YORK - America may be waging a war on terrorism overseas, but there\'s one war at home for which President George W. Bush has shown less enthusiasm, some state officials and environmental groups say.|
To them, Bush is on the wrong side in the never-ending battle over air pollution, which saw a new skirmish last week pitting four eastern states against one of America\'s premier power generating companies.
The four - New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania - located downwind of coal-fired power plants, served notice they will sue Allegheny Energy, claiming the company\'s five plants in West Virginia violate the federal Clean Air Act.
But they also pointed the finger at Bush and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for what they called lax enforcement of anti-pollution rules.
\"Once again, President Bush has failed the people of New Jersey and the northeast by opting to protect the profits of polluters rather than the health of citizens,\" said Bradley Campbell, commissioner of New Jersey\'s Department of Environmental Protection.
\"Once again, the states must fill the void left by the federal government,\" he said.
\"Faced with federal regulators at the EPA who have abdicated their responsibility to enforce the Clean Air Act, we will join with these other states to ensure that corporate polluters are not permitted to defy the law and profit at the expense of our environment and the health of our citizens,\" said New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey.
The EPA dropped its investigation of power plants last year, but New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer obtained the files on Allegheny\'s West Virginia plants at Albright, Maidsville and Haywood, plus two at Willow Island.
According to Spitzer, the EPA investigation revealed the Allegheny plants made major improvements without installing legally required air pollution controls. \"As a result, they have continued to emit hundreds of thousands of tons more pollution each year,\" he said.
Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions cause smog, acid rain, respiratory disease and other harm, said Spitzer, adding that Allegheny is the fifth-largest emitter of sulfur dioxide in the United States, and 10th largest emitter of nitrogen oxide.
Allegheny Energy, based in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, denied the allegations. \"We believe that we have been and continue to be in compliance with all existing state and federal environmental laws,\" said Chairman, President and Chief Executive Paul Evanson.
\"We are always mindful of our responsibilities as an environmental steward in the operation of our power plants,\" he said, adding that the company welcomed the opportunity to meet with the four states \"to amicably resolve these matters.\"
An EPA spokeswoman said the agency continued to enforce the New Source Review program, which \"is an important tool and one component of EPA\'s comprehensive national strategy to achieve cleaner air.
\"The most important thing we can do to improve air quality in this country is to reduce pollution from power plants and we have proposed the Clean Air Interstate Rule that will require power plants to reduce their emissions by 70 percent.\"
The states\' notice to sue comes as one major environmental group, the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), launched a campaign to cut levels of mercury, another emission of coal-fired power plants.
According to the NRDC, electric power plants are the single largest industrial source of some of the worst air pollutants. In 1998, power plants were responsible for 67 percent of the annual total sulfur dioxide, more than one-quarter of the nitrogen oxides, 33 percent of the mercury and 40 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, it said.
The Clean Air Act, which was originally passed in the 1970s and amended in 1990, set targets and dates for reduction of pollutants. Levels of mercury were meant to be limited by the end of this year.
The NRDC had sued the EPA to force stricter enforcement of mercury limits. But the environmental group ultimately agreed to extend the deadline for those target levels to March 15 next year, to give the EPA more time.
\"The Bush administration has clearly done everything in the last four years to undermine clean air legislation,\" said the NRDC\'s Ashok Gupta. \"It is not sympathetic to protecting the environment and went back on campaign promises.\"
John Walke, clean air director of NRDC, said the EPA\'s move only came after the environmental group sued. \"They had done such an awful job and we put pressure on them to do a better job. That\'s why the deadline has been extended 90 days.
But Jim Owen, of the Edison Electric Institute, a power industry group, said America\'s power stations had already cut mercury emissions as a result of clean-air actions.
\"In fact, we have been cutting...by 40 percent in the last decade as a result of existing control technology to cut sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide which continue to be installed.
\"There will be significant reductions of mercury,\" he said.
The NRDC\'s Walke was not impressed by the 40 percent reduction claim. \"That\'s a by-product of regulations to reduce smog, which they resisted tooth and nail.
\"The truth is, how much public health damage will continue to be caused by pollution? How many more people will suffer from asthma?\" he asked.
Story by Steve James
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE