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Earth and sun
4.15.05
Science and Health:
Air Wars
More on This Story:
The Clear Skies Initiative

NOW has been reporting on the Bush administration's Clear Skies Initiative, called by THE NEW YORK TIMES the "legislative centerpiece of President Bush's environmental policy," for several years. On March 9, 2005 the Initiative, now called the Clear Skies Act of 2005, reached what appears to be an insurmountable impasse in the Senate. A 9-to-9 vote by the Environment and Public Works Committee, means that the bill, which deals with sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury, cannot advance to the full Senate.

The Bush Administration's Clear Skies Initiative, first introduced in 2002, has promised to "help alleviate our nation's major air pollution-related health and environmental problems including fine particles, ozone, mercury, acid rain, nitrogen deposition, and visibility impairment." Clear Skies claims to be "a simple cost-effective way of improving air quality over broad multi-state areas in a way that makes sense for everyone." The administration called it "the most significant step America has ever taken to cut power plant emissions" and said it would "aggressively reduce air pollution from electricity generators and improve air quality throughout the country." But many environmentalists oppose Clear Skies, arguing that it weakens the standards of the Clean Air Act.

Environmentalists were already worried about a 2003 EPA rule weakens the "New Source Review" provision (1977) of the Clean Air Act. This means that when industrial facilities make upgrades to plants that increase air pollution, even by hundreds of thousands of tons, if the improvements cost less than 20% of the replacement value of the "process units," the plant doesn't have to install modern pollution controls. According to one study, the failure to install modern pollution controls at 51 plants (involved in enforcement cases) is responsible for 5,000 to 9,000 premature deaths and 80,000 to 120,000 asthma attacks every year.

The 2005 debate over Clear Skies was mainly along partisan lines again. Whether or not the major change to the Clean Air Act provision should include carbon dioxide became a heated debate over the idea of global warming. Read about the Clear Skies from the Environmental Protection Agency and from the White House.

Learn more about the effects of deadly smog and monitor the air quality in your neighborhood.





These controversial topics have gotten a lot of attention from activists, environmentalists, industries, and the press. For every advocate of the new clean air policy or the Clear Skies Initiative, there is a staunch opponent. Read what people on all sides of the issue have been saying about Clear Skies since its introduction in 2002, and talk back on the message boards to tell us what you think.

Washington Post editorial, March 2, 2003:

"The good things about this bill: A cap-and-trade system could reduce emissions faster and more cheaply than the cumbersome, lawsuit-prone regulatory system. When used to impose meaningful standards, emissions trading could broaden the significant achievements of the air quality regulatory regime in this country, at a lower cost to electricity consumers. The bad things about this bill? This legislation, if and when it ever emerges from Congress, is unlikely to do all of this, and it may not do any of it."

OMB (Office of Management and Budget) Watch, July 14, 2003:

"The Bush administration recently attempted to hide an analysis showing that a rival Senate plan would achieve greater public health and environmental benefits than the president's Clear Skies Initiative, at only a slightly higher cost…. Meanwhile, electric power utilities have begun mobilizing support for the polluter-friendly Clear Skies plan. Edison Electric Institute, in particular, recently established a web site and sent an e-mail to power company officials in support of the administration's air pollution plan, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer."

Sierra Club, February 22, 2002:

"Instead of reducing air pollution, the President's plan will actually result in more air pollution than currently allowed under current law. At the same time, the Administration is considering weakening New Source Review; an important Clean Air Act program that requires antiquated power plants and factories to install modern pollution control equipment when they expand."

Foundation for Clean Air Progress, February 27, 2003:

"The Clean Air Act has produced substantial improvements in air quality over the last three decade. The question is whether there's a better way to reduce power plant emissions even further — 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." - Edison Electric Institute President Thomas Kuhn

National Mining Association (NMA):

"While the Clear Skies proposal is a strong start, there are a number of improvements that must be made to assure that coal-fired generation is not adversely affected… Properly structured, and with the changes suggested by NMA, the Clear Skies proposal would provide for further emissions improvements, have a minimal impact on coal based generation, preserve America's most reliable and affordable energy source, and encourage the construction of new coal capacity using advanced clean coal technologies."

Competitive Enterprise Institute, August 19, 2003 (Executive Summary of the study, "The Clear Skies Initiative is Hazy"):

"Proponents of the Clear Skies Initiative claim that it will avert thousands of deaths annually by reducing emissions from coal-fired power plants. Environmental activist groups counter that Clear Skies will kill tens of thousands annually because it does not go far enough to curb emissions. This paper counsels skepticism on the root epidemiological premise behind the claims of both proponents and opponents of Clear Skies — the assumption that fine particulate pollution kills people at any level of exposure."

Atlantic Salmon Federation, November 27, 2002:

"The Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF), like the rest of New England, is outraged by the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) announcement on Friday of regulatory changes to the Clean Air Act that will allow thousands of coal-burning power plants, steel mills, and incinerators to continue unabated to spew great quantities of poisonous gases and chemical residues into the air."

"Bush's Clear Skies Initiative," by A. Danny Ellerman and Paul L. Joskow in the NEW YORK TIMES:

"It is unfortunate that many environmentalists and some legislators have opposed this plan. It provides for a huge reduction in emissions and uses innovative strategies to fight air pollution… In the administration's plan, plant owners would get both the incentive to reduce emissions and the flexibility to find the cheapest cleanup strategies for key pollutants without regard to a plant's age. The nation is more likely to reduce air pollutants faster by scrapping the new-source strategy, increasing the use of cap-and-trade, and moving away from a system that requires regulators to make too many plant-by-plant decisions."




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