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Harvard's Medical Area Total Energy Plant (MATEP) will probably receive an exemption from federal clean air regulations, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said yesterday, prompting opponents of the plant to call the EPA decision "patently absurd."
The plant will receive an exemption from the Clean Air Act automatically as a non-profit organization, unless MATEP's opponents successfully challenge its non-profit status, Betsy Straw, the EPA spokesman, said.
Gov. Edward J. King requested the exemption earlier this month, Straw added.
The Clean Air Act requires that the EPA regulate all new sources of pollution However, if the polluter is a non-profit educational or health institution, the governor of the state can request a waiver of the Clean Air standards.
If the EPA exemption is not overturned before April, Harvard will be able to begin installation of the plant's six diesel-powered electric generating units.
Opponents of the plant will appeal the EPA's decision on the basis that the plant is neither part of a hospital nor an educational facility. Lewis M. Horwitz, chairman of the NOMATEP committee, said yesterday.
"The attorneys assure me we have 'an iron-clad case,'" Horwitz added.
Without an exemption from the Clean Air Act regulations. Harvard might face several sets of hearings before the EPA in an effort to demonstrate that the diesel units would not add significantly to pollution levels in Boston and Brookline.
The Real Issue
Dr. John A. Hermos, chairman of Brookline Citizens to Protect the Environment and a member of NOMATEP, said yesterday that the EPA classification of MATEP as a non-profit plant was "incorrect," but he added that "the real issue is the environment."
"The plant will release diesel particulates and 6,000 to 8,000 tons of nitrous dioxide into the air each year," Hermos said, adding that Harvard "has done everything it can to avoid the (EPA) proceedings and will do anything it can to avoid constraints on the plant's operation."
Hermos criticized the plant's administrators for spending money "on legal procedures and convincing federal, local and state officials that they are OK, and none on making the plant clean."
Robin Schmidt, the University's vice-president for Government and Community Affairs, said yesterday that the plans for MATEP have been "subjected to extensive review" by the state for the past four years, adding that Massachusetts standards are "as stringent as the Federal standards."
Because of the controvery over MATEP, the EPA has designated the last two weeks of March as a "public comment period."
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