“Often the Environmental Appeals Board is just sort of an expensive and time-consuming stop along the way to the court of appeals,” said Russell Frye, a lawyer for several companies that have received and appealed such permits, including oil companies, power plants and paper-and-pulp factories. “This would eliminate that step for my clients.”
Another industry lawyer, Jeffrey Holmstead, who represents companies that operate coal-burning power plants, wrote in an email that he, too, was surprised by the fact that companies would be allowed to appeal, but not opponents. “It seems a bit odd to have an asymmetric appeals process,” he wrote.
The board was created in 1992 by William K. Reilly, the E.P.A. administrator under the first President Bush.
Individuals who have filed appeals with the board said it offered an effective forum for people who could not afford to mount a full legal case. Among them is Emerson J. Addison III, an unemployed English teacher in Clare County, Mich., who last year filed an appeal with the board after the E.P.A. issued a permit to the Muskegon Development Company to inject water into a defunct oil well in Mr. Addison’s community in an effort to reconstitute the well.
Mr. Addison feared that, in the process, contaminated water would leak from the well into the local water supply. “This is a poor area,” he said. “Most people don’t have the money to fight something like this in court.”
In April, the Environmental Appeals Board sent the permit back to the E.P.A. for revision, ruling that it wasn’t clear if the agency had sufficiently considered public comments or the effects of the plan on the poor and minority members of nearby community.
It is not yet known whether the agency will revoke the permit or simply revise it, but “if they eventually do it, maybe it will be safer,” Mr. Addison said.
The proposed change to the Environmental Appeals Board process could be made public as soon as the coming week, according to the three people familiar with the matter. It would then be open for public comment, a period that typically lasts 60 to 90 days, before being finalized and implemented.
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