Clear Skies or Black Skies?
The Bush administration's air pollution plan, the "clear skies initiative," would weaken the public health protections of the current Clean Air Act. It would threaten public health and help big polluters by delaying and diluting cuts in power plants' sulfur, nitrogen and mercury pollution compared to timely enforcement of current law. It would roll back the current law's public health safeguards protecting local air quality, curbing pollution from upwind states, and restoring visibility in our national parks. Finally, it also would do nothing to curb power plants' growing emissions of carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming.
The Administration Plan Repeals, Weakens, and Delays the Safeguards of the Clean Air Act.
Bush Plan Weakens Protection from Dangerous Soot and Smog
Current Clean Air Act: Dangerous levels of soot and smog are causing thousands of premature deaths, hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks, and other illnesses each year. The Environmental Protection Agency and states must clean up dangerous soot and smog and ensure that most citizens breathe air that meets public health standards by 2010. Current law requires deep reductions in power plants' sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions within this decade to meet these public health standards. In September 2001, EPA told the industry's main lobby group, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), that existing law would cut power plants' soot-forming SO2 pollution from 11 million tons today to 2 million tons by 2012, and cut their smog-forming NOx pollution from 5 million tons today to 1.25 million tons by 2010. (See notes and table.)
The administration plan would delay deadlines for meeting public health standards, allowing violations of soot and smog health standards to continue until 2015 or later. Power plant pollution cuts would be delayed and diluted. Tens of millions of people would be denied healthy air, even as late as 2020 and beyond.
Bush Plan Weakens Protection from Toxic Mercury
Current Clean Air Act: Power plants are the largest uncontrolled source of mercury, a neurological toxin that threatens the health of developing fetuses, children and other vulnerable populations. Each power plant must install the maximum achievable control technology (MACT) for mercury emissions and other toxic air pollutants by the end of 2007, and then further limit any unacceptable health risks that remain. EPA told EEI in December 2001 that enforcing current law could cut power plant mercury pollution by nearly 90 percent, from 48 tons today to about 5 tons, by 2008.
The administration plan would eliminate the current law's health protections for mercury and other toxic air pollutants. Mercury reductions would be delayed and diluted. The administration plan would allow power plants to emit more than five times as much mercury for a decade longer (2010-2018) and three times as much after 2018 than current law. EPA data show that more than 100 power plants may actually increase mercury emissions, and that parts of New England, the Great Lakes and Gulf Coast regions, and other areas would experience only very small reductions in mercury deposition, and could experience increases.
Bush Plan Repeals Safeguards for Local Air Quality
The current Clean Air Act requires new power plants to install state-of-the-art pollution controls, and requires older "grandfathered" plants to install modern pollution controls when they are rebuilt or expanded in ways that increase pollution output. In areas with dirty air, new or expanded plants must offset their pollution increases.
The administration plan would effectively repeal these current air quality safeguards. Exemptions would not be limited to power plants, but would be available to plants in any industry sector.
Hamstrings Safeguards for Downwind States
Current Clean Air Act: When power plants in upwind states cause violations of air pollution health standards in downwind states, the downwind states can force those plants to cut their pollution.
The administration plan would effectively repeals this "state rights" provision. The Bush plan would prohibit downwind states from pursuing any pollution reductions from power plants in upwind states before 2012. The administration bill would increase the burden of proof after 2012, making nearly impossible to prove that upwind power plants are causing downwind pollution.
Bush Plan Weakens Safeguards for National Parks
Current Clean Air Act: Existing power plants must install modern pollution control equipment to curb the haze they cause in national parks and wilderness areas. New major industrial sources including power plants must not degrade air quality in national parks and wilderness areas.
The administration plan would repeal cleanup requirements for existing sources, and would fail to protect clean air in our parks by ignoring potential impacts on national parks in siting most new major sources of industrial pollution, including power plants.
The Administration Plan Would Worsen Global Warming
Power plants are the largest source of U.S. global warming pollution, responsible for 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. The earth's climate is rapidly changing due to the buildup of CO2 and other heat-trapping pollution. Ignoring power plants' carbon emissions will lead to more global warming and higher costs. An integrated four-pollutant bill, with mandatory limits on CO2, would begin to reduce this monumental hazard to our health and our environment and, at the same time, save billions of dollars.
The administration plan would allow power plant CO2 pollution to continue to increase, relying on voluntary approaches, which have proven to be ineffective. The administration plan would allow another generation of investments in power plants with excessive carbon dioxide emissions -- dramatically increasing future costs for utilities and their customers when the need to curb these emissions is finally recognized.
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