Clear Skies Legislation Introduced in Congress

The Bush Administration sent legislation to Congress to implement the Clear Skies initiative, a program the administration claims will cut power plant emissions of three air pollutants - nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and mercury - by 70 percent. Opponents worry the initiative gives polluters a license to pollute more, and complain it ignores carbon dioxide, responsible for global warming, completely.

"America has made significant progress over the last 30 years in our quest for cleaner air, and we have learned a lot about what approaches work best. Now is the time to put those lessons to use," said President George W. Bush.

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said she and the president "are committed to a plan that will clean up power plant pollution much faster than current law. This plan makes sense for the environment, public health and American consumers."

The proposal uses a cap-and-trade system, which environmentalists claim allows dirty utility companies to continue to pollute. The program establishes a cap on the amount of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide. It also limits the release of mercury. Utilities that exceed the limits established by the initiative would be allowed to purchase credits from other companies that do not need all of their credits.

"This would be an attempt to undermine enforcement and substitute an industry-friendly emission trading scheme, which we think would actually encourage corporate irresponsibility and be a giant step backward in air pollution control,'" said Frank O'Donnell, executive director of the Clean Air Trust, an environmental group.

The legislation was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Bob Smith (R-N.H.) and in the House of Representatives by Congressmen W.J. Tauzin (R-La.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas). Those legislators had nothing but praise for the bill.

Barton, claiming that the president "has a strong commitment to environmental protection" despite protests to the contrary by environmental rights groups and former EPA Administrator Carole Browner, said the Clean Air initiative "will not only accelerate the already improving air quality of our nation, but begin key reforms to regulatory programs which have hindered progress and impeded technological innovation."

Smith, senior Republican member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said, "If enacted, this proposal will ensure substantial reductions in harmful, health-impairing utility emissions. It is my hope to have a bipartisan multi-emissions reduction package signed into law in the near future."

He will probably have an uphill fight, even among his own committee members.

"Any benefits of the so-called 'Clear Skies' proposal are too little and come too late," insisted Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), chairman of the committee. "By ignoring carbon-dioxide in this bill, the administration is ignoring its own warnings on the devastating effects of global warming. I'm disappointed that this bill doesn't go farther to reduce dangerous power plant emissions that endanger public health."

The Sierra Club is urging Americans to write or call their representatives in Congress and ask them to vote against the initiative.

"This bill hurts families, allows more air pollution and weakens the Clean Air Act - it benefits only irresponsible, polluting corporations. It won't help communities protect their families and the planet from air pollution," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. "Americans want to hold polluting companies accountable for dirty air and to strengthen protections against the pollution that causes asthma, acid rain and global warming. Americans breathe cleaner air today than they did 30 years ago because the Clean Air Act cracked down on polluters. We need to strengthen this safeguard, not dismantle it."

Additional information about Clear Skies, including legislative language and region-specific information about air quality and health benefits, can be found on EPA's Web site at www.epa.gov/clearskies.

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