May 13, 2002
The Bush administration announced its new “Clear Skies” program – supposedly aimed at reducing power plant emissions. The plan proposes a reduction in the amount of nitrogen oxide in the air (which leads to smog) and the amount of sulfur dioxide (which leads to acid rain.) Whatever this plan may or may not do about power plant pollution, the Bush administration and Congress are glad to push anything that improves their “environmental” image. Their reputations were a little tarnished by their refusal to cut down on pollution from vehicles, the other big cause of pollution along with power plants.
In any case, there certainly is every reason to reduce pollution from electric power utilities. Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency reported more than 4,000 times when states exceeded the allowed amount of smog in the air. The EPA also collected figures in the Toxic Release Inventory which show that electric utilities throw more pollutants into the air than all other industries. Power plants released twice as many pounds of pollutants as the chemical industry, for example, 300,000 tons of hydrochloric acid.
“Clear Skies” pretends it will deal with this pollution. In fact, it is mainly a method for allowing the utility industry to pollute more. Utilities are allowed to use older and less strict standards for pollution control, according to the age of the plant in question. Whatever Clean Air Acts have been passed, each one has allowed this escape clause for older plants. Utility companies have even brought older plants back into production instead of building new ones – even shutting down more modern plants. And they certainly don’t upgrade the oldest plant. Why? Because polluting power plants are more profitable than the ones using the best technology to cut down pollution.
An environmental coalition called “Clear the Air” argues that the administration’s plan will increase nitrogen oxide by a third more than current levels and sulfur dioxide by half again as much. That’s very possible.
There was a similar increase after Bush’s father signed the Clean Air Act in 1990: air pollution increased by at least 15%. Obviously, nothing changed during the eight years under the Clinton administration.
Politicians don’t listen to us cough or choke with asthma. They are too busy listening to their pals among the polluters – auto, oil and utility industries – pushing for still more handouts.