The Environmental Protection Agency wants to revise "new source review" requirements to make it easier for refineries and large manufacturers to modify plants without triggering Clean Air Act provisions for pollution control equipment and permits.

EPA's proposal, announced Sept. 8, contains three NSR changes that the agency believes would boost industry investment in energy-efficient and lower-emission technologies. One change would let plant owners or operators modify one part of a plant to increase production in other areas that were not updated. Under this "de-bottlenecking" provision, the unaltered parts of the plant could avoid NSR requirements if its emissions already were covered in an existing permit.

Another provision would allow EPA to view multiple, related projects at one facility as a single project when weighing NSR requirements. The agency also is proposing to simplify "netting," or how it calculates whether NSR applies to a project when emission level increases and decreases are added together.

EPA will take comments on the plan for 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register later this month.

Oil refiners, petrochemical companies and other manufacturers praised the proposed rule. National Association of Manufacturers President John Engler called it "an important step toward cutting the red tape in the regulatory process and ensuring that regulations are understandable."

To meet higher demand and requests by Congress and other policy makers, U.S. oil refiners plan to boost their capacity by 8%, or 1.4 million barrels per day, according to the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association. "The new EPA proposals will help the industry respond to these official calls for increased refining capacity," says NPRA President Bob Slaughter.

But environmental groups see EPA's proposal as giving industry another opportunity to postpone installing pollution control equipment. "The EPA is once again ignoring science and the impacts on public health in favor of increasing industry profits," contends Alice McKeown, a Sierra Club air issues specialist.