Ah, the holiday season, when New Yorkers' thoughts turn to complicated and controversial regulations governing greenhouse gases and toxic industrial air pollution.
Maybe such matters aren't high on everyone's holiday list. But the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has set Monday, for many the first working day after Thanksgiving, as the deadline for public comment on its proposed new limits on such air pollutants as nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide.
And what better day than Christmas Eve could there be for the deadline for public comment on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative?
Oh, well, all deadlines have to fall sometime. Certainly, it's not because anyone is hoping people will miss the chance to call the state on proposed rules that don't clamp down on the main sources of dirty air and global warming as much as they ought.
Environmental groups have raised concerns about whether the first major environmental rules to come out under the administration of Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer are somehow weaker than the kind of regulatory rigor he demanded from the federal government when Spitzer was New York's crusading attorney general.
One set of rules covers what the regulators call New Source Review. That's the trigger that allows new standards to be applied to older power plants and factories if they expand or significantly refurbish their facilities.
The New York Public Interest Research Group and Earthjustice are questioning the part of the draft rules that would allow polluters to get away with more pollution if they can show that the increase is due, not to new facilities, but to their effort to keep up with increased demand for their product.
That's a loophole with the potential to wipe out the effectiveness of the whole regulatory scheme, given that it's hard to imagine any increase in pollution that cannot be linked to an increase in the production of power or goods.
On the greenhouse gas end of things, New York's proposed rules appear less worrisome to environmentalists, though they are calling for public vigilance lest some new loophole appear, or be interpreted, where there was none before. Particularly, the concern is that the existing outputs of greenhouse gases that are to be considered the cap for future years not be set too high, or that the credits that polluters will be allowed through the 10-state regional initiative might be given away rather than sold to raise money for pollution control programs.
Such regulatory regimes are complicated and open to interpretation, even under the most careful drafting process. The people should have their say. It's just too bad that our old attorney general isn't around to demand the tightest possible lid on pollution of all kinds.
The DEC is accepting public comment on proposed rules for New Source Review air quality regulations until 5 p.m. Monday. Comments may be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The DEC is accepting public comments on rules for the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative until 5 p.m. Dec. 24. Comments may be e-mailed to email@example.com. A public hearing is set for 1 p.m. Dec. 13 at the DEC Region 8 office, 6274 E. Avon-Lima Road, Avon.