jueves, marzo 08, 2007

Not paying up

States from Alabama to Wyoming collected such low fees from major polluters that they may have shortchanged efforts to fight air pollution by up to $50 million, an environmental group reported on Wednesday.

Those states either charged emissions fees lower than the minimum federal government standard or put a limit on how much each polluter was compelled to pay in those fees, according to the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project.

"Only the polluters come out ahead of the game under an arrangement where states let them off the hook rather than doing what they are supposed to under federal law," the group's Eric Schaeffer said at a telephone news briefing.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires states to pay nearly $40 for each ton of emissions of the most noxious air pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and smog-forming volatile organic compounds.

Businesses that emit those compounds include power plants, refineries, cement kilns, incinerators and chemical plants. States are responsible for collecting those fees and bear most of the burden of monitoring emissions, inspecting and enforcing the law.

The environmental group said at least 18 states collected fees that fell below the federal minimum standard. That is permitted only if states can show they have enough money to perform the functions required under the law.


The Environmental Protection Agency's John Millett questioned the report, saying the part of the Clean Air Act that sets out the fees, known as Title V, "helps improve compliance by helping sources (of air pollution) understand their requirements, and has improved record-keeping and reporting."

Millett said by e-mail that if fees were less than the federal minimum standard, "the state or local government must provide a detailed analysis showing why the fees are adequate ... EPA has reviewed all of the 112 Title V programs submitted and found the fees to be adequate."

Schaeffer cited the law, noting it was meant to pay for "emissions and ambient monitoring ... modeling, analyses and demonstrations and ... tracking emissions."

"We are not claiming that Title V fees will cover everything from soup to nuts," Schaeffer said in a telephone interview. But he added, "It's a significant part of the program and in some states it seems to be under-funded because the fees are too low."

The report found that Louisiana collected $9.8 million less than it could have under the federal minimum standard, while Texas collected $5.6 million less; North Carolina $5.4 million less and Florida $4.5 million less.

More than a dozen of the states collected millions less than they might have, the report said.


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