Are there Clouds Ahead for Clear Skies?

Feb. 28, 2003
President George W. Bush once again has had his Clear Skies legislation introduced in Congress, but are there clouds on the horizon for his plan to cut power plant emissions?

The administration claims the Clear Skies plan will cut power plant emissions by 70 percent, "much further, faster, more cost-effectively and with more certainty than current law," according to Bush. It earned praise from the association representing most of the nation's energy providers, while earning a thumbs down from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

"The Clean Air Act has produced substantial improvements in air quality over the last three decades," said Thomas Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, which represents EEI President Thomas Kuhn said. The institute is the association of U.S. shareholder-owned electric companies, international affiliates and industry associates worldwide, and represents nearly 70 percent of electric customers in the nation.

"The question is whether there's a better way to reduce power plant emissions even further," added Kuhn, calling for an approach "that guarantees continued air quality improvements while maintaining a reliable and affordable supply of electricity. We think the Clear Skies Initiative is headed in the right direction."

According to Bush, Clear Skies builds on "the proven success" of what he calls "our most effective clean air program the acid rain reduction program, which significantly reduced acid rain in the Northeast." The acid rain reduction program allows companies to buy, sell and trade "credits," which allow those that produce more acid-rain related emissions to purchase credits from those that produce less. Clear Skies expands that program so that in the next decade, according to Bush, some 35 million more tons of pollution will be removed from the air than would be under the current Clean Air Act.

"This will also help protect our forests, lakes, streams and coastal waters from acid rain, nitrogen and mercury degradation. And Clear Skies will do this through the use of a market-based system that guarantees results while keeping electricity prices affordable for Americans," said Bush.

David Hawkins, director of NRDC's Climate Center, claims the plan allows more than twice as much sulfur dioxide and one and a half times as much nitrous oxides for nearly a decade longer (2010-2018) than allowed by faithful enforcement of the current Clean Air Act. The plan also allows power plants to emit more than five times as much mercury for a decade longer (2010-2018) and three times as much after 2018, as the current Clean Air Act.

Calling the Bush initiative "bankrupt," Hawkins warned that if enacted, "The Bush air pollution plan would cost thousands of lives, intensify global warming and reward polluting industries that have been flouting the law for years. It would make lethal pollution legal, condemning millions of Americans to breathing dangerous air."

According to Hawkins the plan allows industry to make fewer reductions in toxic pollution over a much longer period of time than current law. "That may explain industry's support for this bill," he said, "but it offers cold comfort to hundreds of thousands of asthma sufferers and the families of thousands of Americans who die unnecessarily every year from power plant pollution."

Kuhn noting reductions in the production of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides since the passage of the Clean Air Act, even though electricity use increased by 159 percent, insisted, "We've proven that we can reduce our emissions, but 30 years' of experience under the Clean Air Act also has taught us that there's a better way to achieve air quality goals in the future. This is our chance to break the litigation logjam by adopting a more rational approach to regulation."

For a detailed comparison between current law and the Bush plan, see "The Bush Administration Air Pollution Plan: Hurts Public Health, Helps Big Polluters, Worsens Global Warming," a backgrounder issued 14 environmental groups, at

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