Clean Air & Energy: Air
Pollution: In Brief: Action
The Bush Administration's Air Pollution Plan
As air pollution continues to harm Americans' health,
the Bush administration is pushing its misnamed 'Clear Skies' initiative, which would gut existing health protections and
do nothing to curb global warming.
1. Is air
pollution from power plants, refineries and other industrial facilities really still a problem?
Yes. Although progress has been made cleaning
up air pollution since the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, air quality has remained poor or has even deteriorated in many
parts of the country. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than 120 million Americans live in areas where
the air is unhealthy. From the aggravation of respiratory problems such as asthma and emphysema to premature death, air pollution
takes a toll on Americans' health. It also harms the environment, causing acid rain, ozone damage to trees and crops, mercury
contamination, and global warming.
are the worst sources of industrial air pollution?
Electric power plants. They are the single
largest industrial source of some of the worst air pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide and
mercury. In 1998, power plants were responsible for 67 percent of the annual total sulfur dioxide, more than one-quarter of
the nitrogen oxides, 33 percent of the mercury and 40 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions in the United States.
effect does this pollution have on Americans?
Scientists have shown that power plant pollution
is linked to serious health effects and environmental damage:
Premature death: In the eastern United States,
sulfur dioxide is the primary component of fine particles that can be inhaled deeply into the lungs, and are linked with respiratory
disease and premature death. Power plants emit two-thirds of U.S. sulfur dioxide pollution and are responsible for shortening
the lives of an estimated 30,000 Americans each year.
Asthma: Nitrogen oxides are major ingredients
in ozone pollution (smog). During 1999, ozone pollution levels rose above the level the EPA deems healthy more than 7,694
times in 43 states and the District of Columbia. Smog and fine particle pollution are especially damaging for the 14.9 million
asthma sufferers in this country, including 5 million children. In 1997, smog triggered more than 6 million asthma attacks
and sent almost 160,000 people to the emergency room in the eastern United States alone.
Mercury contamination: Mercury can cause
serious neurological and developmental damage, including birth defects, subtle losses of sensory or cognitive ability, and
delays in developmental milestones such as walking and talking. Power plants are responsible for 34 percent of all mercury
emissions, which settle into our waters, where they accumulate in fish. In 41 states, officials warn against eating fish from
mercury-contaminated lakes and rivers.
Acid rain: Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides
from power plants form acids in the atmosphere that fall to earth as rain, fog, snow or dry particles. This "acid rain" is
often carried hundreds of miles by the wind. Acid rain damages forests and kills fish, and can also damage buildings, historical
monuments and even cars.
Global warming: Power plants emit 40 percent
of U.S. carbon dioxide pollution, the primary cause of global warming. Scientists say that unless global warming emissions
are reduced, average U.S. temperatures could be 3 to 9 degrees higher by the end of the century -- with far-reaching effects.
Air pollution will worsen. Sea levels will rise, flooding coastal areas. Heat waves will be more frequent and intense. Droughts
and wildfires will occur more often in some regions, heavy rains and flooding in others. Species will disappear from their
historic ranges and habitats will be lost. Many of these changes have already begun.
is the Bush administration's "Clear Skies" Initiative, and will it help reduce air pollution?
The Bush administration developed a plan
called the Clear Skies Initiative and submitted it to Congress in February of this year as a proposal to amend the Clean Air
Act, which is the primary federal law governing air quality. But "Clear Skies" is a clear misnomer, because if Congress passes
the Clear Skies bill, the result will be to weaken and delay health protections already required under the law.
The Clear Skies legislation sets new targets
for emissions of sulfur dioxide, mercury, and nitrogen oxides from U.S. power plants. But these targets are weaker
than those that would be put in place if the Bush administration simply implemented and enforced the existing law! Compared
to current law, the Clear Skies plan would allow three times more toxic mercury emissions, 50 percent more sulfur emissions,
and hundreds of thousands more tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxides. It would also delay cleaning up this pollution by up
to a decade compared to current law and force residents of heavily-polluted areas to wait years longer for clean air compared
to the existing Clean Air Act.
does the president's Clear Skies plan aim to combat global warming?
It doesn't. Despite mounting evidence of
the urgency of this problem, the president's plan fails to include a single measure to reduce or even limit the growth of
carbon dioxide, the chief pollutant causing global warming. This is a serious mistake that will have serious consequences.
If new legislation is passed affecting the electric power plant industry, plant owners will use it as a blueprint for the
type of investments they make in coming years. Failing to include reductions in global warming pollution in that blueprint
now will only raise the cost and difficulty of achieving them later.
6. I read
about a controversy over pollution from older power plants. Is that related to the Clear Skies legislation?
Yes. The president has also used his authority
over the Environmental Protection Agency to undermine a key part of the Clean Air Act -- called New Source Review -- that
Congress enacted to control pollution from the country's oldest and dirtiest power plants and factories.
In 1977, Congress amended the Clean Air Act
to strengthen pollution controls, but did not require plants already in existence to meet the new standards, expecting that
these plants would soon be retired and replaced with newer, cleaner plants. As a safeguard, however, the law included the
New Source Review provision, which requires that if an older plant undergoes changes that increase its emissions, it must
also install modern air pollution controls. Without New Source Review, much of the nation's industrial base -- power plants,
chemical plants, incinerators, iron and steel foundries, paper mills, cement plants, and a broad array of manufacturing facilities
-- would be excluded from modern clean air requirements.
President Bush's campaign to let dirty power
plants pollute more began early in his administration. In 2001, the president convened an energy policy task force, chaired
by Vice President Cheney. The task force sought extensive advice from energy industry executives and incorporated many of
their recommendations into its plan. In an email sent in early 2001 to an Energy Department official, a lobbyist for the Southern
Company, an Atlanta-based electric utility, suggested that the administration weaken the New Source Review requirements. The
task force subsequently recommended a review of New Source Review regulations, and in November 2002 the administration announced
new rules that severely undercut the program. NRDC is challenging the new rules in court, but if Congress passes the Clear
Skies bill, provisions that would similarly hamstring efforts to cut pollution from old plants would become law.
can I do about dangerous power plant pollution?
First, you can take action to preserve and
strengthen clean air protections. Go to NRDC's Earth Action Center and send a letter to Congress, urging your senators and your representative in the House to oppose the Clear Skies legislation.
While you're there, watch the cartoon that artist Mark Fiore created to help expose the Clear Skies bill as the industrial polluter's dream it really is, and then
tell your friends about it. You can also sign up for our biweekly action bulletin, and we'll keep you informed about opportunities to speak out for clean air as they arise.
You can also help cut power plant pollution
by using less energy and supporting cleaner sources of electricity. See NRDC's guides to reducing your energy consumption and buying clean energy for more information.
last revised 6.15.03