— The US Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday it would propose a comprehensive strategy in September to reduce air pollution.

EPA had faced an Aug. 17 deadline from the Bush administration to reform its New Source Review permitting program, but will delay those recommendations until the broader plan is finished.

The NSR program requires utilities and other industries to install pollution controls when a new facility is built, or when an existing facility makes changes that significantly increase emissions.

Administrator Christie Whitman said, “Our top priority is protecting public health and the environment, and we are in the final stages of developing a comprehensive strategy that will allow us to take the next step forward into a new generation of air pollution controls.

“This fall, we will put forward an ambitious proposal that will reduce air pollution from power plants significantly more than the existing system. Subsequently, we will release the NSR report called for by the National Energy Policy.”

EPA and the White House are working on a legislative proposal to limit power plant emissions of the three major air pollutants that affect public health — nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and mercury — through a market-based approach. The air pollution reduction strategy also will address concerns about the NSR program’s effect on energy efficiency and capacity.

The agency said its proposal will give industry the flexibility to find the most cost-effective means of meeting air quality standards while reducing the administrative burden on state and federal environmental agencies.

EPA said as part of the strategy, the legislative proposals concerning power plants will benefit from the Clean Air Act’s successful acid rain “cap and trade” program.

It said, “With a 100% industry rate of compliance and extraordinarily low administrative costs, this program has eliminated more air pollution, more cost-effectively, in the last decade than all other programs combined.”

The agency noted the cap-and-trade approach to reducing air pollution was endorsed at last week’s National Governor’s Association meeting. NGA also called for reform of the NSR program.

Whitman said, “As we develop a new strategy to more effectively reduce air pollution, we will also evaluate the extent to which existing regulations may need to be modernized. Our review of the NSR regulation is part of our larger effort to craft a new, comprehensive strategy to combat air pollution, and I am not prepared to come to any conclusions about one isolated issue before we finish work on our entire proposal.”

EPA said in its NSR review so far, it has met with more than 100 groups, held 4 public meetings, and received more than 130,000 written comments from the public.

The Public Interest Research Group said the delay of the NSR recommendations means EPA has received strong public opposition to weakening clean air protections.

PIRG attorney Rebecca Stanfield warned that a legislative proposal to cap nitrogen, sulfur, and mercury emissions from power plants must include carbon dioxide emissions or it “will not gain the support of the environmental community and is therefore highly unlikely to move in the Congress.”