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Green groups file suit against EPA withdrawal of 'once in, always in' policy

A handful of environmental groups filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's withdrawal of a policy that permanently mandated stricter controls of hazardous air pollutants for facilities that did not meet an initial compliance deadline under the 1990 Maximum Achievable Control Technology standards.

In a press release issued in conjunction with the March 26 filing of a petition for review with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the groups said the revocation of the MACT rule provision often referred to as "once in, always in" will allow major industrial facilities to turn off their pollution control equipment and release additional lead, chromium and other hazardous pollutants into the air.

The EPA in January announced that it was scrapping the "once in, always in" provision, which states that any plants or manufacturers initially categorized as "major sources" of emissions for the MACT rule under the Clean Air Act had until their first substantive compliance deadline to reduce their emissions enough to be exempt from the standards going forward. That requirement originally was adopted in an attempt to prevent sources from backsliding.

The environmental groups — Earthjustice, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and others — noted that industrial facilities have been operating the required emissions control equipment and complying with the standards for years.

In particular, the groups were critical of the EPA's decision to alter the regulation through a four-page memo without offering an opportunity for public comment or analysis of air pollution and public health impacts. They cited a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project examining a dozen industrial facilities subject to the MACT rule, which indicated that without the "once in, always in" provision, emissions from those facilities could increase dramatically.

"Under EPA's new rule, they will be able to turn down, turn off, or disconnect their pollution controls and double, triple, or even quadruple their toxic emissions," the groups said. "They will also no longer have to monitor their emissions or accurately report them."

The EPA moved to withdraw the provision after two Republican senators filed a petition arguing that the policy "discourages emissions reductions" and makes companies spend money on complying with the MACT standards that could be put toward better uses.