The Bush administration has drafted regulations that would ease pollution controls on older, dirtier power plants and could allow those that modernize to emit more pollution, rather than less.
The language could undercut dozens of pending state and federal lawsuits aimed at forcing coal-fired plants to cut back emissions of harmful pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, said lawyers who worked on the cases.
... The utilities, and the proposed new rules, take the position that decisions on whether a plant complies with the regulations after modernization should be based on how much pollution it could potentially emit per hour, rather than the current standard of how much it pollutes annually.
Under the new standard, a modernized plant's total emissions could rise if the upgrade allowed it to operate longer hours. In court filings, the EPA estimated in 2002 that an hourly standard would allow eight plants in five states -- including Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia -- to generate legally as much as 100,000 tons a year of pollutants that would be illegal under the existing New Source Review rule. That equals about a third of their total emissions.