Report cites EPA failures

The government is failing to reduce health risks from toxic air pollution as required by law, congressional investigators said Wednesday.

The Environmental Protection Agency has not met 30 percent of the Clean Air Act’s requirements and regularly misses deadlines, they said.

The agency largely has failed to regulate air pollutants from small sources, including dry cleaners and trucks, the Government Accountability Office said in a report.

The report said the EPA has not yet met 239 of the law’s requirements; of those the agency did fulfill, only 12 were met on time.

“EPA has not reduced human health risks from air toxics to the extent and in the time frames envisioned in the Act,” according to the report by the investigative arm of Congress.

The report was requested by Sens. James Jeffords, I-Vt., a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., and 13 Democrats in the Senate and House.

Separately, a panel set up by the U.S., Canada and Mexico reported Wednesday that pollution in North America fell by 15 percent from 1998 to 2003.

In 2003, the latest year for which figures were available, the total amount of pollution released or transferred elsewhere in North America was 3.3 million tons.

The top 10 chemicals emitted in the three nations were hydrochloric acid, methanol, sulfuric acid, hydrogen fluoride, toluene, styrene, xylenes, n-hexane, methyl ethyl ketone and carbon disulfide.

Some such as toluene and xylenes come from mobile sources, open burning or asphalt paving; hydrochloric acid and other chemicals come from coal-fired electric utilities.

Jeffords and some Democrats said the GAO report shows the EPA is allowing people to be unlawfully exposed to health risks such as cancer, reproductive damage and birth defects.

“This report confirms that EPA has abdicated its responsibility to protect our citizens from dangerous, cancer-causing pollutants,” Jeffords said.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said the report shows that “virtually all Americans face an increased risk of cancer from breathing toxic air pollution, yet EPA refuses to carry out the Clean Air Act’s mandates, leaving everyone exposed to unnecessary cancer risks.”

Agency officials said the EPA and the Bush administration are making progress. By next year, the EPA said, emissions of toxic air will have dropped by 57 percent from 1990 levels due to new standards affecting dozens of types of industrial facilities.

“Environmental progress is similar to a relay race with each administration passing the baton to the next,” EPA spokeswoman Jessica Emond said. “The Bush administration completed one leg of the race, while accelerating environmental progress for future generations.”


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