A bipartisan group of U.S. Congress members introduced a bill today that would set emissions limits for carbon dioxide and other power plant pollutants that contribute to global warming and pose a risk to public health. The bill was released two days after President George W. Bush's controversial decision not to support limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
Five U.S. Senators and two Representatives held a press conference to unveil "The Clean Power Act of 2001," the Senate version of the bill, and the "Clean Smokestacks Act of 2001," the House version. Both bills are described as taking a cost effective, commonsense approach to slashing power plant emissions of four major pollutants - nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, mercury and carbon dioxide - by 2007.
On Tuesday, President Bush broke a campaign pledge when he declared that his administration would not regulate emissions of carbon dioxide from power plants.
"While I applaud President Bush for maintaining his position of requiring all power plants to meet clean air standards by reducing emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury, it is extremely disappointing that he has dropped one of the most important elements off that list. I have no intention of doing the same," said Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican and one of the cosponsors of the bill introduced today.
The bills would cut smog and soot forming nitrogen oxides by 75 percent from 1997 levels. Acid rain and soot forming sulfur dioxide would be cut by 75 percent below Phase II of the Clean Air Act's Acid Rain Program requirements.
Toxic mercury emissions would be cut by 90 percent from 1999 levels, and global warming carbon dioxide emissions would return to 1990 levels. In addition, the bills would require every power plant to clean up to the same level required for new power plants by the facility's 30th birthday or five years after enactment of the Act, whichever is later.
"The nation's dirtiest power plants have spent the last 30 years using loopholes in the law to avoid emissions reductions," said Senator Collins. "There's a lot of momentum now for finally eliminating that loophole. Carbon dioxide, mercury, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxides all present serious risks in high concentrations. We need to do all we can to reduce emissions of these pollutants into our air."
The bill won praise from a variety of environmental and citizens groups. "Pollution from old, inefficient power plants kills tens of thousands of Americans each year and contributes to global warming," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. "Clean air and a safe climate are basic rights and necessary for all life. These bills move us one step closer toward protecting Americans' right to breathe freely."
"Today's bipartisan action should restore the public's confidence that environmental leaders in Congress are willing to work together to promote cleaner air and curb the effects of global warming, keeping a pledge made - then broken - by the president," said Deb Callahan, president of the League of Conservation Voters. "The Clean Power Plant Act of 2001 provides the kind of strong, commonsense environmental protection the American people overwhelmingly support and expect."
In contrast, criticism continued to mount today over President Bush's decision to oppose emissions limits for carbon dioxide. In a letter to four Republican Senators, President Bush cited higher electricity costs and a dearth of currently available technology as reasons for breaking his pledge, based on a Department of Energy report projecting higher prices for electricity and natural gas under a carbon dioxide emissions cap.
But critics say that report failed to factor in potential cost savings from the emissions cuts. A United Nations study conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released earlier this month found the economic benefits of limiting carbon dioxide using known technology could actually exceed the costs.
"Half the potential emissions reductions could be achieved . . . with direct benefits (energy saved) exceeding direct costs (net capital, operating, and maintenance costs)," the report stated.
"This is about much more than broken campaign promises and political double talk," said Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat who cosponsored the new Senate bill. "The science on this threat has never been clearer or more convincing."
Many charged that Bush's move will ultimately cost the nation more than it may save in lower energy costs. The nonprofit group Redefining Progress called Bush's decision "perilous" for American consumers, particularly lower income families.
"It is ironic that Bush would turn a blind eye to this critical issue within a month of the release of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that attested to the severity of the global warming problem," said Redefining Progress environmental justice and climate change campaign manager Ansje Miller. "Climate change is a life and death issue for the low income and people of color communities in the United States. This decision will do nothing more than delay necessary action and will have serious detrimental effects on the lives of millions of people in this country."
A Redefining Progress report found that low income and minority communities would be most affected by climate change. Already burdened with poor air quality and twice as likely to be uninsured as whites, these Americans will become even more vulnerable to climate change related respiratory ailments, heat related illness and death, and illness from insect carried diseases, the report found.
President George W. Bush said Tuesday that he no longer supports requiring power plants to cut carbon dioxide emissions (Photo courtesy The White House)
Even local Washington DC papers condemned Bush's decision. The "Washington Post" ran an editorial this morning charging that Bush's "shortsightedness" would make it much harder and more expensive to address global warming in the future.
And Christopher Flavin, president of the Worldwatch Institute, warned that "the attempt by the Bush administration to return to reliance on coal, a dirty fuel that is a relic of the 19th century, would be a costly economic mistake."
Not everyone disagreed with Bush's decision, of course. Senator Bob Smith, the New Hampshire Republican who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said Bush's position is consistent with his own plans to introduce legislation to curb power plant emissions through "a cap and trade, market based system," rather than through mandatory cuts.
The Global Climate Coalition (GCC), an industry supported group that opposes current international efforts to control global warming through mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions, called the legislation introduced today "wrongheaded in light of America's current energy woes," and praised Bush's stance.
"As we continue discussions about a national energy policy, it is important to strike the proper balance between the nation's energy needs and the nation's environmental priorities," said GCC executive director Glenn Kelly. "Though well intended, efforts aimed at regulating carbon dioxide emissions are misguided and costly."
H. Sterling Burnett, senior policy analyst with the National Center for Policy Analysis, said that Bush's decision "showed great wisdom and leadership," and urged that Bush and the Senate continue to oppose mandatory emissions cuts such as those described in the international Kyoto Protocol.
Under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, 39 industrialized nations are committed to cut their greenhouse gas emissions to an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by the period 2008-2012. But the Protocol will not take effect until it is ratified by 55 percent of the nations emitting at least 55 percent of the six greenhouse gases.
Bush has repeatedly said that he opposes the Kyoto Protocol. New talks on the pact are scheduled to begin this summer.
Other supporters appeared to bolster the arguments of Bush critics that the president's decision was heavily influenced by industry lobbyists. The conservative Cooler Heads Coalition said that Bush had made "the right decision on regulating CO2 [carbon dioxide] with a little good advice from their friends."
"We have won a famous victory, and everyone should congratulate themselves on the work they did to achieve this end," wrote Myron Ebell, chair of the Cooler Heads Coalition, in an email to supporters.
Ebell is also the director of global warming and international environmental policy for the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Both industry supported groups lobbied heavily for President Bush to retract his campaign statement that he would mandate carbon dioxide reductions from power plants.
In the same email, Ebell noted that a Cooler Heads Coalition member was instrumental in initiating the Department of Energy study that "gave the administration the cover they needed to get out of the dead end they had blundered into," offering economic reasons for Bush to back off of carbon dioxide regulations.
Ebell also urged his cohorts to step up opposition against environmentally friendly candidates for appointments in the Bush administration, including the post of assistant administrator for air pollution control at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In response, the nonprofit Clean Air Trust earlier today named Ebell their Clean Air "Villain Of The Month."