Environment News Service
Title: Bush Energy Plan Could Increase Pollution
Author: Cat Lazaroff
The Progressive Populist, http://www.populist.com/
March 15, 2002
Title: Smog Screen
Author: David Corn
Faculty evaluator: Dorothy Friedel
Student researcher: Derek Fieldsoe
The Bush administration’s energy plan will actually increase air pollution in the United States. The plan calls for increased fossil fuel consumption, and for decreased funding for research into renewable, clean energy development. The plan also lowers upgrade requirements on 30- to 60-year-old power plants that often emit four to ten times as much sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide, and mercury as newer power plants. The administration stands behind this plan despite higher smog levels, increased respiratory related hospital visits, and record high asthma cases on the East Coast last year,
Although Bush conceded earlier in his presidency that global warming is underway and that steps must be taken to reduce emissions, the U.S. is still responsible for 25% of the world’s emissions. The Bush plan puts into jeopardy the New Source Review (NSR) provision, which is a vital part of the Clean Air Act. The NSR requires facilities to offset pollution increases with reductions elsewhere in the facility or demonstrate that the facility is using the best available pollution control. Major power, coal, and oil companies who own power plants that were built between 1940 and 1970, have sought to ease the restrictions of the NSR claiming that the law hurts their business due to high costs to upgrade to the best available pollution control technology. The EPA and several states have successfully sued a number of large utilities for violation of this NSR provision. These legal victories have led to millions of dollars in penalties.
Power plant air pollutants in some regions are known to cause as much damage to human lungs as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. According to Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, “President Bush’s invitation to weaken these pollution controls is an invitation to increase asthma and other health problems triggered by power plant smog.”
While East Coast record smog levels have resulted in 6 million asthma attacks and 212,000 hospital visits due to respiratory problems last summer, George Bush claims his energy plan will be good for the environment and the economy. After rejecting the 1997 Kyoto accord (which was supported by every other industrialized nation in the world), Bush declared that, “Our immediate goal is to reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions relative to the size of our economy.” While this sounds like a positive statement, it should be known that what the Bush energy plan actually means is that the rate of emission production must stay below the rate of economic growth but will result in increasing pollution by 14% over the coming decade. So the plan calls for no immediate reduction, only slower increases. Emission producing businesses would only have to monitor and report their emissions to receive pollution credits, which can then be sold to other companies to increase their emissions.
Additionally, the Bush plan calls for a slashing of funding in research for renewable, clean forms of energy such as wind and solar power, which can provide very effective amounts of energy for U.S. consumption. The slashing of funding for research into clean renewable energy and increased dependence on fossil fuels will speed up the effects of global warming and have a detrimental effect on our health and environment.
UPDATE BY AUTHOR DAVID CORN: One trouble with the mainstream media is that, generally, its reporters and editors feel uncomfortable pointing an accusing finger at a subject-the President, for example-and say, “You’re lying,” or “That’s ridiculous.” When President George W. Bush finally released a plan to “address” global warming, the story-to the extent it was covered-was that he was issuing a proposal, not that he was being disingenuousness. A reporter did not have to look too closely to see Bush’s proposal would allow the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to increase. Yet the people who run most media outlets do not believe they can publish a headline saying, “President Offers Misleading Global Warming Scheme.” Perhaps consequently, Bush has continued to play games with global warming. In the end of May 2002, his EPA released a report confirming global warming was under way and caused by the burning of fossil fuels. He tried to distance himself from the report-while his administration used it to justify opposing emissions reductions (for the report also said global warming had progressed so far that emissions reductions might not remedy the situation). But, at the same, time, the Bush White House continued to claim Bush cared about the matter and used the occasion to promote his global warming plan. So he and his aides were dismissing the report and embracing its too-late-to-do-anything conclusion but still maintaining their do-little plan would make a difference. It was a hurricane of spin-and one that few reporters bothered to deconstruct or report.
UPDATE BY AUTHOR CAT LAZAROFF: Since July 2001, the Bush energy plan has been challenged and debated in Congress, the courts, and in newspapers across the nation. The collapse of energy giant Enron has led to new questions about the role that the fossil fuel industries played in crafting the White House energy plan and in steering it away from cleaner power sources and energy conserving strategies.
Major energy legislation (HR 4) has been passed by both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Both versions of the bill, now headed for a conference committee showdown, would enact key portions of the Bush energy plan, including increased subsidies for nuclear power, clean coal and other fossil fuel sectors, while boosting tax incentives for energy efficiency and alternative energy sources such as wind, solar and fuel cells.
The bills both fail to tackle some prominent sources of air pollution, including vehicle emissions, which could be slashed if Congress approved higher fuel efficiency standards for passenger vehicles. However, the Senate version would triple the amount of ethanol added to gasoline across the nation by 2012, a step that could help states meet clean air standards without using water polluting MTBE.
President George W. Bush moved to reduce power plant emissions of three major pollutants – sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury – through his Clear Skies initiative, unveiled in February 2002. Critics say the largely voluntary program, which would set nationwide emissions caps that companies could meet by trading pollution credits and other market based mechanisms, could actually increase the real emissions of these pollutants.
The Clear Skies initiative also aims to cut the nation’s so called carbon intensity, a measure of carbon emissions tied to U.S. economic activity. The proposal has been widely criticized both at home and abroad as an inferior tool for combating global climate change, when compared to the international Kyoto Protocol that President Bush has rejected.
A number of states have passed or are reviewing legislation to curb carbon emissions from fossil fueled power plants, a trend that could eventually prompt calls by the energy industry for uniform nationwide standards.
Legal challenges to the new source review (NSR) provisions of the Clean Air Act continue, with hearings on a landmark case brought by the federally operated Tennessee Valley Authority beginning in May. Senior administration officials have said repeatedly that the NSR rule should be overhauled, and the EPA is still reviewing the provision, having missed several self imposed deadlines for announcing any planned revisions.
In January 2002, the Justice Department announced that enforcement actions taken under NSR are legal and consistent with the Clean Air Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. EPA Administrator Christie Whitman has reportedly advised regional EPA offices to continue to seek new cases that can be prosecuted under NSR, while at the same time counseling utilities cited under NSR to avoid settling their cases until the Tennessee Valley Authority’s case is decided.
Meanwhile, evidence continues to mount regarding the link between air pollution and human health problems. In April 2002, for example, a report released by a consulting firm and a former enforcement officer from the EPA charged that almost 6,000 premature deaths can be blamed each year on pollution from 80 power plants in the Midwest and Southeast.
More information on the White House Clear Skies initiative is available at:http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/02/20020214-5.html
The EPA’s new source review materials are available at: http://www.epa.gov/ttn/nsr/
An analysis of the energy efficiency provisions of the House and Senate energy bills, by the Alliance to Save Energy, is available at: (Note: As of 9/12/2023, this source URL no longer exists)
An analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council of the role that the energy industry played in crafting the Bush energy plan is available at: (Note: As of 9/12/2023, this source URL no longer exists)
Physicians for Social Responsibility has a briefer on the potential health effects of the Bush energy plan at: (Note: As of 9/12/2023, this source URL no longer exists)
A history of the development of the new source review is available at:http://www.cleanairtrust.org/newsourcereview.html