The Environmental Protection Agency has released a regulation that it says will clarify when powerplants and other smokestack facilities must install up-to-date pollution control equipment when the plants are overhauled. The rule, which Acting EPA Administrator Marianne L. Horinko signed on Aug. 27, was welcomed by electric utility companies but slammed by environmental groups. EPA now is likely to face a challenge in court from New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, whose office had said he would file a lawsuit to block the regulation.

Regulation defines when plant upgrades' scope also requires advanced emission controls. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

The rule is part of EPA's "New Source Review" program, which was established in the 1977 Clean Air Act. The latest rule defines when plant upgrades go beyond "routine maintenance," and thus require advanced emission-control technology.

The regulation states that plants will be excluded from the "NSR" requirements if the fixed cost of the equipment to be replaced plus the related repair and maintenance work are no more than 20% of the replacement value of the "process unit."

Horinko said, "The changes we are making in this rule will provide industrial facilities and powerplants with the regulatory certainty they need."

Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a utility group, said that "EPA is helping to remove powerful disincentives that stand in the way of better efficiency and reliability for the electrical system in the United States."

But Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, contended that under the new rule, "Polluters can replace huge pieces of their factories without installing readily available modern technology to curb the soot and smog pollution that leaves our communities at risk to more asthma attacks, acid rain and other toxic pollution."