In a plan agency officials said would help citizens monitor air pollution in their hometowns, the EPA proposed rules requiring every industrial facility to obtain a permit spelling out its allowable emission levels.

However, environmentalists called the Environmental Protection Agency rules "an outrage," charging they would give plant operators wide latitude to increase emissions without any requirement for public notice.They said Wednesday's EPA proposal would permit a plant operator to increase emissions as long as it notified state officials of the change and no objections were raised by the government within seven days.

David Hawkins, an air pollution expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the seven-day response period was much too short for overburdened state officials, and that local citizens might not find out about the change until it was too late.

"There is absolutely no way a state is going to be able to respond in seven days," Hawkins said. "They might as well have said seven minutes. And if the state doesn't object in seven days, that becomes the legal limit. It's an outrage."

The only recourse for local citizens, Hawkins said, would be to pursue lengthy court challenges that could drag on for years while higher pollution levels continued.