EPA-Approved Revisions to State Implementation Plans Allowing Increased Sulfur Dioxide Emissions Were Legal

RCED-85-129: Published: Aug 16, 1985. Publicly Released: Sep 20, 1985.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed: (1) the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) approval of state actions to allow increased levels of sulfur dioxide emissions; (2) the impact of such revisions on future economic growth; and (3) the legal basis for these increases.

GAO found that, from 1981 to 1983, EPA approved 114 revisions to state implementation plans involving sulfur dioxide, 58 of which permitted increased emissions. These revisions allowed a net increase of 1.5 million tons of sulfur dioxide emissions during that period. The GAO review of 18 state plan revisions showed that increased sulfur dioxide emissions could reduce the recreational value of land and waterways, increase building maintenance costs, and increase health care expenses. After a state's adoption and submission to EPA of a state plan revision, EPA approval is mandatory and the revision must meet Clean Air Act criteria. However, states are allowed to attach conditions to their state plan revisions. GAO found that: (1) for the 18 state plan revisions it reviewed, EPA and the states followed the act's key requirements; (2) EPA could improve the techniques it uses in making approval decisions; (3) mathematical models are needed that can better project the interstate impacts of sulfur dioxide emissions and the impact of those emissions on certain types of terrain; and (4) some states calculated compliance with the emission standards by a method that was not approved by EPA. EPA, however, has ongoing research to find methods of correcting these problems.

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