Political Pollution in Congress

Robert Ukeiley OldBy ROBERT UKEILEY

The American Solar Energy Society and SOLAR TODAY are politically neutral and bipartisan. However, congressional activity to preserve unfair advantages for dirty sources of energy has recently been very one-sided. Republican leaders in Congress continue to find absurd reasons to allow polluters to dump their pollution into the public’s air at no cost.

For example, they claim that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is composed of “regulators gone wild” and that EPA is conducting a “war on coal” or a “war on fossil fuels.” looking at EPA’s two showcase regulations shows how wrong these arguments are. The first regulation, the Mercury and Air toxics Standard (MAtS), is a regulation implementing the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act. Recall that Congress passes laws that are then signed by the president and only then is EPA required to implement the laws, often by creating regulations. The 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act were signed into law by republican President George H.W. Bush. From the time Congress mandated EPA to regulate mercury and toxic airborne emissions from coal and oil-fired power plants, it took 22 years to get regulations in place. Two decades of scientific and policy work hardly constitutes “regulators run wild.”

EPA’s other showcase regulation is the transport rule, designed to reduce emissions from power plants that contribute to smog and fine particulates in our air. The transport rule is part of EPA’s implementation of ambient air-quality standards, as mandated by Congress in 1977. the transport rule is implementing an ambient air-quality standard EPA created in 1997. The polluters and the legislators who speak for them now claim that a 15-year process is “over-aggressive regulation.”

To understand how woefully weak and delayed EPA’s regulations are, consider this: the 1997 ambient air-quality standard for smog is 85 parts per billion (ppb). In 2008, after extensive scientific review, EPA, under the second Bush administration, lowered the standard to 75 ppb. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, when she first got into office, said that the 75 ppb standard was not protective of people and thus not legally defensible. She went through the process of lowering the standard to 70 or 65 ppb, but at the last minute, President obama ordered her not to. So today’s transport rule is only designed to bring smog levels to the 1997 standard of 85 ppb. It does not address emission reductions needed for the four-year-old 75 ppb standard, which itself is not stringent enough, according to Jackson.

So next time you hear the Congressional leadership whining about EPA overreaching, point out that EPA is only doing what Congress ordered them to do literally decades ago.

Robert Ukeiley (rukeiley@igc.org) is a lawyer who represents environmental nonprofits in clean air act litigation affecting energy issues.

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