Senate Committee Backs Power Plant
By Cat Lazaroff
WASHINGTON, DC, June 28, 2002 (ENS) - Legislation to
slash emissions of four pollutants - including the greenhouse
gas carbon dioxide - from power plants narrowly passed a
Senate committee on Thursday. The bill, authored by committee
chair Senator Jim Jeffords, would require much deeper
emissions cuts than proposals made by the Bush administration.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted 10
to nine to send legislation drafted by its chair to the full
Senate. Jeffords, a Vermont Independent, says the Clean Power
Act (S 556) will "significantly reduce pollution from electric
Senator Jim Jeffords authored the Clean Power Act and
shepherded the bill through the committee he chairs.
(Photo courtesy Office of the
Senator)"Today's action sends a clear message to
this administration that the Senate is willing to engage on
clean air and climate change," Jeffords said after the vote.
"My bill protects public and environmental health by making
swift and deep reductions in pollution from power plants.
Everyday that goes by without such action, more people get
sick, more forests are damaged, and more degrees of global
warming are added."
The bill requires electric power plants to reduce their
emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) by 83 percent, sulfur
dioxide (SO2) by 83 percent, mercury by 90 percent and carbon
dioxide (CO2) by 23 percent from today's levels. By 2008, all
power plants - including many now exempted from existing Clean
Air Act regulations - would have to meet nationwide pollutant
The bill differs from President George W. Bush's Clear
Skies Initiative on two major issues: requiring new pollution
controls for older power plants and mandating reductions in
CO2 emissions, an idea the White House has repeatedly opposed
as too expensive.
Power plants produce two-thirds of total U.S. sulfur
dioxide emissions, more than a quarter of the nation's
nitrogen oxides, one third of the nation's mercury pollution,
and about 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.
(Two photos by Carole Swinehart, courtesy Michigan Sea
Extension)"This is an historic first step on
global warming," said Philip Clapp, president of the National
Environmental Trust, a nonprofit conservation group. "After 10
years of promises, it is the first time the House or Senate
has begun action on legislation that will really reduce the
nation's contribution to global warming pollution."
The bill will face a difficult fight before the full
Senate. Thursday's vote split largely along party lines, with
eight Democrats and one Republican - Lincoln Chafee of Rhode
Island - voting with Jeffords to pass the bill.
Eight Republicans and one Democrat - Montana's Max Baucus,
whose state is one of the nation's biggest coal producers -
opposed the bill. Baucus told Jeffords he could not "support a
bill that is not workable," and warned that the mandatory cap
on CO2 emissions would likely kill the bill on the Senate
Electric generating power plants are the nation's single
largest source of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions,
responsible for emitting six million tons of smog generating
NOx, 13 million tons of acid rain producing SO2, more than two
billion tons of CO2, and 52 tons of toxic mercury each year.
Many older power plants have been accused by the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency of illegally upgrading without
installing pollution controls. The Clean Power Act, as
amended by the Senate committee, would require every power
plant to meet the most recent pollution control standards for
new pollution sources. Many of the most polluting coal burning
power plants still in use today were exempted from original
Clean Air Act requirements enacted more than 30 years ago,
allowing them to emit between 10 and 100 times the amount of
NOx and SO2 pollution permitted from modern power plants.
The legislation requires these older power plants to meet
the new standards either on the power plant's 40th birthday,
or by 2013, whichever is later.
Jeffords said the required reductions in NOx, SO2 and
mercury could be achieved with technology that is already
commercially available, while the means to cut CO2 emissions
"is on the verge of commercial application."
Under the bill, power plants would be allowed to use market
based mechanisms such as emissions trading to help meet
emission reduction requirements. Plants could earn pollution
allowances by making deeper emissions cuts than those required
by law, and then sell or trade these allowances with other
Utilities would not be allowed to trade allowances with
polluters from other industries, such as factories. An
exception could be made in the future for CO2 allowances, if
other polluters are also forced to meet CO2 caps - if, for
example, the U.S. were to comply with the greenhouse gas
reductions required by the Kyoto Protocol, an international
climate change treaty which President Bush has rejected.
Pollution emitted from a coal burning power plant.
(Photo courtesy National Renewable Energy
Lab)No pollution credits would be permitted
for emissions of mercury, a toxic metal that has been linked
to developmental and behavioral disorders. The Clean Power Act
would require that all mercury captured by power plant
pollution controls be disposed of in a manner that ensures it
will not reenter the environment.
Frank O'Donnell, executive director of the nonprofit Clean
Air Trust, called the Senate committee vote, " a resounding
defeat for President Bush."
"His so called 'Clear Skies' plan has just been sent to the
ash heap of history," O'Donnell said, predicting Senate
approval for Jeffords' bill.
A variety of conservation and public interest groups have
backed the bill, particularly applauding its steps toward
reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
None of Ohio's coal burning power plants are currently
required to meet the emissions standards of the 1970 Clean Air
Act because they were planned or constructed prior to 1973.
(Photo courtesy Ohio Environmental Council)"In
the United States, power plants are the biggest source of
carbon pollution," noted Brooks Yeager, vice president of
global threats at the World Wildlife Fund. "If Congress does
not complete action on a bill to limit carbon pollution from
power plants soon, we will miss a golden opportunity to
prevent more serious impacts of global warming."
"EPA's recent global warming report makes it clear that
carbon dioxide emissions are heating up the climate," added
Martha Marks, president of REP America, the national
grassroots organization of Republicans for environmental
protection. "If we continue doing nothing about this problem,
we're risking very serious consequences - more violent,
destructive weather, water supply constraints, and greater
sickness and death from stronger heat waves and summer smog
Air pollution is already a major health problem, noted the
group Physicians For Social Responsibility in a letter sent to
Senators Thursday morning. More than 1,300 doctors, nurses and
health professionals endorsed the letter, calling power plants
"the leading source of the harmful air pollution that is
taking its toll on America's health."
"The Clean Power Act is the most effective way to protect
public health from air pollution," said Dr. Robert Musil,
executive director and CEO of Physicians for Social
Responsibility. "We call on the President to support this plan
that will require stringent cuts of these four pollutants."