CLEAN AIR ACT Bill's fate up in the air
Jeffords' bill would essentially 'put coal out of business,' an Ohio senator said.
By CHRIS SHOTT
STATES NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON -- Thursday marked the 11th year since the last major changes to the Clean Air Act became law, but there is little agreement on Capitol Hill about how to further curtail toxic emissions from the nation's power plants.
Lawmakers are divided not only along party lines, but also by geography and whether they believe global warming is fact or fiction.
New Englanders, who bear the brunt of downwind pollution stemming from coal-fired power plants in the Midwest, are calling for drastic emission cuts.
Proposal: Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt., has authored an ambitious proposal requiring significant reductions by 2007 of four air pollutants: sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain; nitrogen oxide, which contributes to smog; mercury, which contaminates aquatic life; and carbon dioxide, which scientists cite as one of the greenhouse gases that causes worldwide climate change.
But that bill faces staunch opposition from the Bush administration, as well as Midwestern lawmakers, who see the strict emissions cuts as a threat to the region's industrial base and, ultimately, the economy nationwide.
Appalachian impact: Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, maintains that Jeffords' bill would prompt many plants to switch fuels from low-cost coal to pricier natural gas to comply with the stringent regulations and effectively, "put coal out of business," he said.
"This will drive up the cost of electricity and cause massive job losses in Ohio and throughout Appalachia," said Voinovich, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which Jeffords chairs. "When jobs are lost in one industry, the repercussions are felt across every industry in the region. This will be devastating to the entire economy."
The Bush administration is set to issue a more modest proposal -- excluding the controversial carbon dioxide cuts -- no later than January.
Hopeful: Jeffords, meanwhile, contends the economic outlook of passage isn't all doom and gloom. He points to estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency suggesting that the overall gross domestic product would be unchanged as a result, with higher costs for consumers being offset by investments in new technologies to comply with the mandates.
"A failure to significantly reduce all four pollutants in a coordinated fashion will lead to a worsening of environmental and public heath conditions," Jeffords added. He hopes to get the bill on the Senate floor in February.
Unless Jeffords agrees to eliminate the carbon dioxide cuts, however, Voinovich doesn't envision the bill going very far.
"My concern is that at the end of the road, we're going to have a stalemate, and nothing's going to get done," he said. "Fundamentally, if we want to get something done in Congress to deal with this problem, we're probably going to be dealing with three emissions."