Senate Panel Derails Bush’s “Clear Skies” Pollution Plan By J.R. Pegg
WASHINGTON, DC, March 10, 2005 (ENS) – President George W. Bush’s bid to dramatically overhaul federal clean air policy suffered a major defeat Wednesday when the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee failed to pass his plan to cut power plant pollution.
Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee cast the lone Republican vote against the president’s “Clear Skies” initiative, ensuring a 9-9 deadlock that effectively killed the bill.
“This is an easy no vote for me,” Chafee said. “I am very comfortable that existing legislation protects our environment and our air better than Clear Skies.”
The vote came as little surprise and both sides blamed each other for the failure of the committee to find a compromise despite more than a month of negotiations.
“Several of my colleagues simply do not want a bill or fear alienating environmental groups who do not want this bill,” said Senator George Voinovich, an Ohio Republican and cosponsor of the legislation.
Vermont Independent Senator James Jeffords told colleagues “the bill before us today is no compromise, it is a giant step backwards.”
Opponents said the bill’s cap and trade limits on power plant emissions of mercury, sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) are less stringent than existing law and argued the legislation should also include a cap on the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the most abundant greenhouse gas.
Power plant pollution causes some 24,000 premature deaths each year as well as more than 35,000 heart attacks and the half a million asthma attacks – power plants also account for 40 percent of the nation’s CO2 emissions.
“To call this bill ‘Clear Skies’ is akin to calling Frankenstein Tom Cruise,” said California Democrat Barbara Boxer.
Supporters say the bill would provide the electric utility industry with the regulatory certainty that would avoid costly litigation and result in a 70 percent reduction in power plant emissions of mercury, SO2 and NOx by 2016.
The bill, which has the support of industry and manufacturing groups, would force utilities to spend some $52 billion on new emission controls and would help much of the nation meet new standards for smog and particulate matter, Voinovich added.
“This bill addresses our serious energy needs – keeps coal, our most abundant and cheapest energy source, part of our energy future,” he said.
Committee Chairman Senator James Inhofe accused opponents of holding the legislation “hostage to mandatory carbon caps” that are not supported by the administration and have no chance of passing the Senate or the House.
The bill “has been killed by environmental extremists who care more about continuing the litigation friendly status quo and making a political statement on CO2 than they do about reducing air pollution,” the Oklahoma Republican said.
Chafee rejected that criticism and said he would have backed away from a mandatory cap if the provisions regulating the other three pollutants were tightened.
“We couldn’t get any traction on that either,” said Chafee, who lashed out at opponents of carbon regulation.
“It is a shame the U.S. Congress is the last bastion of denial on climate change,” he said.
Republican leaders could try to move the legislation directly to the Senate floor or attach it to another bill, but moving the measure out of committee was seen by proponents as the best chance of convincing the full Senate to pass the bill.
“This is a real missed opportunity,” said Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican. “I don’t share the optimism that we will get another window of opportunity.”
Democrats urged their colleagues not abandon the effort to forge a consensus on new multipollutant emissions legislation.
“Tomorrow is another day,” said Montana Democrat Max Baucus. “ It is my hope - and it is a very high hope - that we take this as a lesson, as a beginning and try to put this thing back together again.”
Inhofe said it is unlikely the committee will reconsider the bill and took issue those who wanted additional time to reshape the proposal.
“We have explored every issue in excruciating detail. Claims that we have insufficient information to make an informed decision lack credibility,” said Inhofe, who pointed to a large stack of documents on his desk.
That drew a heated response from Delaware Democrat Tom Carper, who spearheaded negotiations on the bill with Voinovich.
“The information we requested two years ago is not in that pile, information we requested last year is not in that pile, and information I requested last week is not in that pile,” said Carper, referring to requests for analysis from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) comparing the legislation with competing proposals.
The EPA in the last four years has been constrained from providing unbiased analysis to the committee, said Carper, and “that has got to end.”
Almost immediately after the vote, the EPA announced that today the agency would finalize the Clean Air Interstate Rule – a more modest regulatory version of the President’s plan to cut SO2 and NOx emissions.
The agency appears set to issue a final rule on mercury emissions, also based on the concepts contained in the Bush plan, next Thursday.
Both rules are likely to face court challenges.
Speaking in Wednesday afternoon in Ohio, President Bush did not address the committee vote on his plan but said the rules “are not a substitute for effective legislation.”
“To protect the environment, to protect jobs here in Ohio and around our country, Congress needs to get a good Clear Skies bill to my desk now,” Bush said.
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