Monday, October 11, 2004
EPA is failing to keep air clean
The Environmental Protection Agency Has some nerve. It's been
crowing lately the atmosphere is cleaner in the Adirondack Mountains
-- but at the same time it's undermining some of the regulations
that helped lower pollution in the first place. That leaves New
York little choice but to keep up its court fight against these
ill-advised changes in federal policy.
EPA officials do have some cause to celebrate. They rightly point
out that between 1990 and 2003 the amount of sulfur dioxide emissions
reaching the Adirondacks dropped by one third.
It's widely agreed the Clean Air Act of 1990 has been a major
force behind this success. Under the ''cap and trade'' plan, government
has set limits on pollution and then put economic pressure on
dirty power plants nationwide that refuse to meet them. These
businesses are required to buy ''pollution credits'' from cleaner
This approach has been effective, says John Sheehan of the Adirondack
Council, an environmental group. While sulfur dioxide from power
plant emissions is still killing mountain lakes and streams, and
nitrogen oxide is still poisoning fragile topsoils, he said the
rate has slowed significantly.
Moreover, billions of dollars in health-care costs have been
saved thanks to emission reductions won through the Clean Air
Act, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Power plant emissions have been linked to lung cancer, asthma
and other diseases.
But, unfortunately, the EPA has rolled back a critical Clean
Air Act regulation: New Source Review. As a result, power companies
no longer must improve their pollution controls when they make
substantial upgrades to their aging facilities. They almost never
even have to file New Source Review paperwork anymore -- which
means the public might not find out when a polluting plant expands
its output. This lack of paperwork also makes it harder for enterprising
public officials like Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to keep suing
these dirty facilities for harming New York's environment.
Program losing its effectiveness
Without New Source Review, power plant pollution is on the rise
again. You won't hear EPA officials brag about this, but their
most recent national figures show sulfur dioxide is back up 4
Energy companies have gotten much bigger since the Clean Air
Act was created, says Neil Woodworth, an environmental lawyer
with the Adirondack Mountain Club. He contends executives have
begun to improve their profits by shifting pollution credits around
among the plants they own in different regions of the country.
Typically, these credits are going to filthy
generating plants in the Midwest, where there's plenty of inexpensive
high-sulfur coal available as fuel.
The EPA is adopting new regulations that would make pollution
credits more scarce, and force energy companies to buy more of
them if they want to keep polluting. But they're weakening any
gains here by allowing power plants to release higher levels of
sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.
New York is doing what it can. It has issued firm emergency emission
requirements for the state's own power plants. And Spitzer, environmental
groups and his colleagues in other states are continuing their
lawsuits against the worst polluters in the Midwest, as well as
the EPA for gutting federal pollution controls. They haven't made
much headway yet, but they must not give up.
With the federal government abdicating its environmental responsibilities,
it's up to the states and the courts to take charge.
Contact Congresswoman Sue Kelly:
21 Old Main Street
Fishkill, NY 12524
Phone: (845) 897-5200
Fax: (845) 897-5800