updated 1/14/2005 10:59:29 AM ET 2005-01-14T15:59:29

The Bush administration’s plans for cutting air pollution could achieve less at certain plants than an existing program targeted by the White House, the National Academy of Sciences suggested Thursday in an interim report.

The study says the current program generally “provides more stringent emission limits for new and modified major sources” — coal-burning power plants — than would be provided by Bush’s proposals.

The “new source review” program, which dates to 1977, requires utilities to install new pollution control equipment whenever major changes or maintenance would significantly increase emissions. The Bush administration has eased the program somewhat, but those changes are on hold pending a federal suit challenging them.

The White House also has been promoting legislation for cutting pollution from power plants, dubbed “Clear Skies,” as well as an Environmental Protection Agency rule change that would accomplish much the same thing.

James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said Thursday that “The NAS does not appear to have taken into account the overall emission reductions that will come from capping pollution at more than 1,000 power plants. That will far exceed the emission reductions that would come from the far fewer number that are subject to new source review.”

Bill Kearney, a spokesman for the academy, cautioned that its panel of experts “will not be able to make conclusions about the overall effects of recent changes to (new source review) until it issues its final report at the end of this year.”

Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt., however, said the report had already provided “further proof that the Bush administration has been recklessly tinkering with the Clean Air Act for several years and wants to go even further.”

An industry representative disagreed.

“The new source program is not an emissions-control program — it’s an enforcement program,” said Scott Segal, spokesman for the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a utility group. “And in order for enforcement to produce reductions in emissions, you have to win the case, and the process can be a long and arduous one.”

Cynthia Bergman, spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency, agreed.

“Case-by-case litigation ... is a blunt tool that will never achieve the across-the-board reductions that the acid rain program has done and that we anticipate” from President Bush’s proposals, she said.

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