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April 04, 2004 - 5:14 p.m.

Conservatives Need To Breathe Too!

Is G.W. Bush Actually Encouraging Air Pollution Increases???

Mark Evanier over at News From ME links to this lengthy but urgent NY Times article by Bruce Barcott (free registration is required, and well worth it!!!) documenting the steps the Bush Administration has undertaken to undermine clean air legislation and replace it with rules that allow, for example, 7 times as much more Mercury to be emitted into the air!

Please note, many of the laws being ignored or erased were enacted by President Richard M. Nixon, a Conservative Republican and Foe of Liberal Democrats Everywhere! This is an issue all sides must understand and put a stop to.

One way is obviously voting Bush out of office.

Another way is voting in Congressmen, Representatives, Governors, any candidate Republican or Democrat, Conservative or Liberal, with the juice to ignore partisan politics and stand up for what they believe is right!

Since there are few of them in either party, I’ll personally be voting against Bush!

Please note: I hate the quoting of passages out of context in order to hammer home a point, so I beg you all to read each word of this long, but critically important article. That said, I will now quote away in the hopes of motivating you to register and read the whole thing yourself!

President Bush doesn't talk about new-source review very often. In fact, he has mentioned it in a speech to the public only once, in remarks he delivered on Sept. 15, 2003, to a cheering crowd of power-plant workers and executives… It was an ideal audience for his chosen subject. New-source review, or N.S.R., involves an obscure and complex set of environmental rules and regulations that most Americans have never heard of, but to people who work in the power industry, few subjects are more crucial.

The Monroe plant, which is operated by Detroit Edison, is one of the nation's top polluters. Its coal-fired generators emit more mercury, a toxic chemical, than any other power plant in the state. Until recently, power plants like the one in Monroe were governed by N.S.R. regulations, which required the plant's owners to install new pollution-control devices if they made any significant improvements to the plant. Those regulations now exist in name only; they were effectively eliminated by a series of rule changes that the Bush administration made out of the public eye in 2002 and 2003. What the president was celebrating in Monroe was the effective end of new-source review.

''The old regulations,'' he said, speaking in front of a huge American flag, ''undermined our goals for protecting the environment and growing the economy.'' New-source review just didn't work, he said. It dissuaded power companies from updating old equipment. It kept power plants from operating at full efficiency. ''Now we've issued new rules that will allow utility companies, like this one right here, to make routine repairs and upgrades without enormous costs and endless disputes,'' the president said. ''We simplified the rules. We made them easy to understand. We trust the people in this plant to make the right decisions.'' The audience applauded.

Yes, of course we trust the country’s biggest polluters to voluntarily “make the right decisions” and make clean-air changes that they’ve been fighting aggressively for 30 years. These self-same power companies have been delaying settlements for millions of dollars of past violations, because they know Oilman Bush is on their side and would allow the fines to just go away!

Having long flouted the new-source review law, many of the nation's biggest power companies were facing, in the last months of the 1990's, an expensive day of reckoning. E.P.A. investigators had caught them breaking the law. To make amends, the power companies were on the verge of signing agreements to clean up their plants, which would have delivered one of the greatest advances in clean air in the nation's history. Then George W. Bush took office, and everything changed.

The Clean Air Act, adopted by Congress and signed by President Nixon in 1970, required industrial polluters to clean up their operations. The law forced power plants and large factories to minimize their emissions of harmful pollutants like sulfur dioxide and lead, and it established national air-quality standards to be met by 1975….

Seven years passed, and the national air-quality standards went unmet. Instead of building new, cleaner plants, many companies simply patched and upgraded their old, dirty plants. So Congress updated the act in 1977, introducing a regulation called new-source review to bring older plants into compliance. Under N.S.R., a company could operate an old factory as long as it wasn't substantially modified. Eventually, it was assumed, the company would have to update its equipment, at which point new-source rules required the company to install the best available pollution-control technology. It was a way to let companies phase in the switch to cleaner factories over a number of years instead of all at once….

Officials in the Clinton administration spent years trying to make the N.S.R. program more palatable to industry without sacrificing public health….Robert Perciasepe, Browner's assistant administrator for air and radiation, kept the flagging effort alive by bringing together industry officials, state and local clean-air regulators, environmental leaders and public health advocates in an ad-hoc working group that struggled to find a mutually acceptable way to implement N.S.R. regulations. But by the end of 2000, Browner told me, the E.P.A.'s efforts to find a compromise ''were essentially dead.''

When I spoke to him recently, Perciasepe, now C.E.O. of the National Audubon Society, put the matter bluntly….''You were not going to reach agreement with some of these folks,'' he said, referring to industry representatives, ''because what they really wanted was to not have to do it.''…

…in November 1999, the (EPA) decided to take the polluters to court. The Justice Department, on behalf of the E.P.A., announced lawsuits against seven electric utility companies in the Midwest and South, charging that their power plants had been illegally releasing enormous amounts of pollutants, in some cases for 20 years or more. The companies included FirstEnergy, American Electric Power and Cinergy, all headquartered in Ohio; Southern Indiana Gas and Electric; Illinois Power; Tampa Electric, in Florida; and Alabama Power and Georgia Power, two subsidiaries of the Atlanta-based Southern Company, the biggest power supplier in the Southeast. The E.P.A. also issued a compliance order to the Tennessee Valley Authority (T.V.A.), the nation's largest public power company, charging T.V.A. with similar violations at seven of its coal-fired plants in Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama. In addition, the E.P.A. put a number of other utilities on notice, warning them that the Justice Department would come after them next if they didn't clean up their acts.

Taken together, the companies named in the suits emitted more than 2 million tons of sulfur dioxide every year and 660,000 tons of nitrogen oxides. Attorney General Janet Reno announced the suits herself. ''When children can't breathe because of pollution from a utility plant hundreds of miles away,'' she said, ''something must be done.''

… The utility industry immediately turned to the Republican-controlled Congress for relief from the lawsuits. … But Representative C.W. Bill Young, a Tampa-area Republican, unexpectedly turned a deaf ear to the overtures of his local utility company, Tampa Electric, and refused to put the rider on the bill. As chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Young had fought to keep House members from sneaking special-interest riders onto spending bills. He stood on principle, and the rider died.

Good for him! I wish there were more politicians of both parties willing to talk issues without pandering to party hardliners! Too often political leaders vilify opponents based solely on what political ground they can gain by doing so.

Take lying for example. Many Republicans attacked Clinton’s lies about Oval Office Sex as reason for him to be booted from office, while Many Democrats either stayed silent or defended him. Now Many Democrats attack Bush for his many (many many many.. ok, sorry) lies while Many Republicans either stay silent or defend him. I support the Republicans and Democrats, Liberals and Conservatives, who speak what they believe from the heart without regard to The Agenda, and there are damned few of these!!!

…Faced with Congressional rejection and mounting fines, some utilities struck bargains with the federal government…But others took an alternate route: they started writing checks to George W. Bush's presidential campaign fund. The Bush campaign had a special title for contributors who raised at least $100,000: Pioneers. Among the more than 200 Pioneers during the 2000 Bush election campaign were FirstEnergy's president, Anthony Alexander; Reliant Resources' C.E.O., Steve Letbetter; and Reliant's chairman, Don Jordan. (MidAmerican Energy's C.E.O., David Sokol, has joined the elite rank for the 2004 re-election campaign; Southern Company's executive vice president Dwight Evans has been named a Ranger, meaning he has raised more than $200,000.) Each of these executives' companies was either in litigation or was soon to be under investigation for new-source review violations. Six other Pioneers were lawyers or lobbyists for companies charged with N.S.R. violations.

…After Bush eventually emerged as the winner of the 2000 election, industry leaders were upbeat about the prospect of the coming four years. The president and the vice president, Dick Cheney, were, after all, oilmen. The coal-industry trade magazine Coal Age exulted in the industry's ''high-level access to policymakers in the new administration.'' Soon after Bush's inauguration, the electric utilities sought relief from the E.P.A. and its new-source review program. The problem was that most voters -- including Republican voters -- opposed rollbacks. A Gallup poll in 2001 found that 81 percent of Americans supported stronger environmental standards for industry. According to another 2001 poll, only 11 percent thought the government was doing ''too much'' to protect the environment.

… The Bush administration appointed officials who came directly from industry into … lower rungs of power -- deputy secretaries and assistant administrators. These second-tier appointees knew exactly which rules and regulations to change because they had been trying to change them, on behalf of their industries, for years. One appointee was Jeffrey Holmstead, a lawyer and lobbyist for groups like the Alliance for Constructive Air Policy, an electric utility trade group that sought to weaken the Clean Air Act. Holmstead stepped into the role of assistant E.P.A. administrator for air and radiation, where he would oversee changes to new-source review.

…President Bush's final National Energy Policy (N.E.P.) was published on May 16, 2001. In its 170 well-designed, color-illustrated pages lay the administration's vision of the environmental future of the United States. The policy's defining notion was simple: environmental regulations have constrained America's domestic energy supply. In broad strokes, the N.E.P. laid out the next three years of the Bush administration's energy and environmental agenda: roll back wilderness and wildlife protections to open up more public land to oil and gas development; establish fast-track hydropower permits; expand offshore oil and gas drilling; and replace tough Clean Air Act rules, including new-source review, with an industry-friendly market-based pollution trading system. These weren't items on a wish list. They were marching orders. Among the first to be carried out was the mandate to overhaul new-source review.

Damn, it may seem like I’m quoting the whole damned article, but these really are small excerpts from the big picture. Scary stuff since the health of all Americans is suffering. Bush made it clearer to the country’s biggest polluters than to the public that he intended to ease pollution restrictions. To whit:

…Beginning in 2001, soon after Bush took office, negotiations (regarding clean air lawsuits) began to break down. ''We were 80 percent of the way done with seven or eight companies, and one by one they just walked away,'' said Bruce Buckheit, who conducted many of the negotiations himself. Even done deals fell apart. In late 2000, E.P.A. officials reached an agreement in principle with Cinergy that was designed to cut nearly 500,000 tons of the company's annual emissions. By 2002, Cinergy had backed out.

…(E.P.A. Chairman) Christie Whitman did little to help the negotiations. In her testimony before the Senate Committee on Government Affairs in March 2002, she described new-source review as ''a program that needs to be fixed,'' but assured the committee that the E.P.A. would not eviscerate the program….''If I were a plaintiff's attorney,'' Whitman said, ''I would not settle anything until I knew what happened'' with the T.V.A. case. The message to the power industry, critics charged, was clear: don't settle the cases; change is coming.

… On Aug. 27, 2003, two days before Labor Day weekend, the other N.S.R. shoe dropped….Marianne Horinko, acting E.P.A. administrator … announced…that the agency had finalized its rule on routine maintenance. The new formula would not adopt Lowrance's suggested threshold of 0.75 percent. Instead, Horinko said, utilities would be allowed to spend up to 20 percent of a generating unit's replacement cost, per year, without tripping the N.S.R. threshold.

In other words, a company that operated a coal-fired power plant could do just about anything it wanted to a $1 billion generating unit as long as the company didn't spend more than $200 million a year on the unit. To E.P.A. officials who had worked on N.S.R. enforcement, who had pored over documents and knew what it cost to repair a generator, the new threshold was absurd. ''What I don't understand is why they were so greedy,'' said Eric Schaeffer, the former E.P.A. official. ''Five percent would have been too high, but 20? I don't think the industry expected that in its wildest dreams.''

The framework of new-source review would remain, but the new rules set thresholds so high that pollution-control requirements would almost never come into effect. ''It's a moron test for power companies,'' said Frank O'Donnell, executive director of the Clean Air Trust, a nonprofit watchdog group. ''It's such a huge loophole that only a moron would trip over it and become subject to N.S.R. requirements.''

The report from the American Lung Association and various environmental groups estimated that compared with enforcement of the old N.S.R. rules, the new rules would result in emissions increases of 7 million tons of sulfur dioxide and 2.4 million tons of nitrogen oxides per year by 2020. …

The announcement of the 20 percent limit had a devastating effect on the E.P.A.'s enforcement division. ''Under the new rules,'' Buckheit said, ''almost everything we worked to achieve is wiped out.''

…The White House's reversal of clean-air gains was especially disturbing to Biondi, who joined the agency in 1971, six months after its inception under President Nixon. The rule changes and the abandonment of the new-source review investigations ''excuse decades of violations,'' he said. ''We worked 30 years to develop a clean-air program that is finally achieving our goals. It was frustrating to see some of our significant advances taken away. I left because I wanted to make a difference, and it became clear that that was going to be difficult at the E.P.A.''

Woof! Please note, all boldface type is mine, so there! Again, I know this is a very long article, but its also an important one to read and act upon if we don’t want to undo 30 years of progress in trying to promote clean air for us all to breathe!

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