House votes to delay controls on toxic pollution

October 6, 2011 - 3:20 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-controlled House passed the first of two bills Thursday to delay rules to cut toxic air pollution and mercury from cement plants, solid waste incinerators and industrial boilers.

House Republicans repeatedly have targeted Environmental Protection Agency regulations that they view as job killers. The latest bills probably will stall in the Democratic-run Senate, even if some Democrats vote for them, and the White House has threatened to veto both measures.

The first bill, which the House passed by a 262-161 vote, would force the EPA to rewrite regulations designed to reduce pollution at about 150 cement plants nationwide. The measure also would extend by years the time that companies have to comply with the new regulations.

Of the plants covered by the rule, 103 are in Republican districts, according to an Associated Press analysis of EPA data. All but one of the chief sponsors of the bill has cement plants in his or her district.

Two of the sponsors, GOP Rep. Joe Barton of Texas and Democratic Rep. Dan Boren of Oklahoma, are in a three-way tie for the most cement plants in a district with six apiece.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said in statement that the bill's passage was a common-sense action to delay "EPA regulations that stand in the way of investment and growth." He said the legislation would make it easier for cement companies, already struggling because of reduced demand, "to succeed and create jobs again."

The House plans to vote Tuesday on legislation to force the EPA to revise regulations aimed at curbing hazardous pollution, including mercury, from industrial boilers. That legislation is also expected to pass.

President Barack Obama challenged the Republicans' attacks on EPA as a job killer.

"They've said, 'We'll roll back regulations that make sure we've got clean air and clean water, eliminate the EPA'," Obama said at a news conference. "Does anybody really think that that is going to create jobs right now and meet the challenges of a global economy ... that is weakening, with all these forces coming into play?"

The two bills, along with one passed last week by the House, postpone for years pollution controls on toxic mercury emissions from the nation's three largest sources — coal-fired power plants, cement kilns, and industrial boilers. Mercury, a toxic metal, is a potent neurotoxin that can cause brain damage in children, even as they develop in the womb.

The cement plant and boiler bills would lower technology-based thresholds that industrial facilities would have to meet. Those facilities are now required to use "maximum achievable" pollution-control technology. The bills would force EPA to rewrite the rules to impose the "least burdensome" alternatives.

The EPA has significantly lowered the cost of the boiler rule and delayed it until April 2012 in response to criticism from industry groups. It proposed the rule only after a court rejected the agency's request for more time.

The regulation would require the installation of pollution controls for more than 13,000 large boilers, which burn coal and other fuels to generate steam and hot water for heat and electricity.

The Obama administration was forced to rewrite the rule after a federal court in 2007 threw out regulations drafted by the Bush administration.

The EPA on Thursday also announced technical adjustments to another regulation targeted by the House GOP that will relax emissions targets for nine states and for individual power plants in seven others that contribute to unhealthy air downwind. Last week, the House passed a bill that would nullify the regulation. The White House threatened to veto that effort as well.

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Associated Press writer Jack Gillum contributed to this report.

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