The Clean Air Act was one of—if not the most—important pieces of U.S. legislation of the 20th century. While the Civil Rights Acts and Labor Acts affected huge segments of the population, EVERYONE breathes the air and benefits from anti-pollution measures. In fact, blue collar workers and nonwhites are the most likely in America to be breathing highly polluted air, so you could say that the Clean Air Act was also a piece of Civil Rights and Labor legislation. Although far from perfect, the Clean Air Act has dramatically reduced several key forms of emissions and without question has saved tens of thousands of lives.
Enter G. W. Bush.
In 2002, Bush proposed replacing the Clean Air Act with the grotesquely named (as in very, very sick joke) Clear Skies Initiative. While the Clean Air Act was one of the most important steps toward positive change in the 20th century, the Clear Skies Initiative, if enacted, will be one of the most destructive steps taken in the 21st century. Not only will it reverse much of the environmental progress made in the past several decades in the U.S., it is likely to reverse progress in other nations, and thus become a global disaster. Japan, a major industrial polluter, is already aping Bush’s environmental stances.
The entire Bush speech that introduced Clear Skies is so full of lies, manipulations, disinformation, and blatantly false promises that it would require a book to address each statement. In this article, I have selected 16 statements from the text of the speech and divided them into what I consider the Initiative’s five main issues: conservation (lack of), environmental health (devastation of), freemarket solutions (failure of), science (absence of), coal (dominance of), and nuclear energy (state sponsored terrorism).
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH: Lies, Damn Lies, Death, and Destruction
(Bush Quotes in bold italics)
“Clean Skies legislation will not only protect our environment, it will prolong the lives of thousands of Americans with asthma and other respiratory illnesses, as well as with those with heart disease. And it will reduce the risk to children exposed to mercury during a mother's pregnancy.”
This has got to be one of the most vicious and inconscionable lies this administration has told America. Under the Bush energy plan, the death rate of Americans from all air-pollution related causes will—not might—rise dramatically. The single biggest reason: Bush's incestuous relationship with the coal industry. Bush pledged mandatory curbs on CO2 emissions in a September 29, 2000 speech in Saginaw Michigan. But as soon as he took office, he reneged on this and began to grovel, Gollum-like, to the coal barons. Within a month of the inauguration the industry was bragging of their easy conquest. "The coal industry... is benefiting from high-level access to policymakers in the new administration,” boasted an editorial in Coal Age (February 2001). By April, 2001, the Bush-Cheney energy plan called for the construction of hundreds of new CO2-belching coal-fired power plants and was touting the wonders of "clean coal technologies."
What Bush has failed to ever mention is that coal is the dirtiest of all forms of energy used in the US. Although 56% all US power plants use coal, these coal-fired plants belch out most of the pollutants emitted by the entire electric industry: over 93% of nitrogen oxides, 96% of sulfur dioxide, at least 88% of CO2, and 99% of mercury emissions. (stats from EPA, National Academy of Sciences and Natural Resources Defense Council stats). At least 40 states now issue regular mercury fish advisories—almost entirely due to coal-fired power plants.
An estimated 30,000 people die from the effects of pollution from coal-fired power plants each year—more than are killed by drunk drivers or through homicides. Coal-fired power plants are the single largest point source contributor to the nation’s rising asthma epidemic – a health care crisis that currently costs the nation .7 BILLION per year. Epidemiological studies show that coal-fired plants trigger at least 603,000 asthma attacks each year. A multi-university study published in 2002 links elevated levels of particulate air pollution to a 4-8% increase in the death rate, and is an important environmental risk factor for cardiopulmonary and lung cancer mortality. Air pollution from the 167 power plants in the southeastern US alone is estimated to cost that region over billion in morbidity and mortality costs annually Particulate matter, tiny particles emitted from coal-fired power plants, kill an estimated 11,000 residents of the Southeast annually. Nine of the 20 states with the highest mortality rates caused by particulate matter are, in fact, in the Southeast. More than 33 million people in the Southeast live in counties with unhealthy, smoggy air, while 8 million are much of it due to coal-fired power plants.
Two major long-term epidemiological studies of the health impact of air pollution in the US involving collectively over 500,000 Americans tracked for 10-14 years revealed a substantially higher death rate among people chronically exposed to dirty air. The Harvard Six Cities Study, which compared death rates in U.S. cities with widely varying pollution levels, shows that in cities with the filthiest air, mortality rates are 17-26% higher than in cities with the cleanest air. A 1995 American Cancer Society study of 151 cities showed a clear relationship between fine particle air pollution (soot) and premature death by cardio-pulmonary and other causes in a study.
Now, keeping these horrific realities in mind, consider this: There is no energy shortage and thus no need to inflict ANY new coal-fired plants on the nation. There is, in fact, a net energy surplus in the U.S. The problem is not supply, it is distribution. The power is simply not being shunted from place to place as efficiently as it could be. The biggest problem is the proliferation of computer networks and their tendency to place unpredictable surges on the system. The “grid” is indeed outdated, but even it does not need a sweeping replacement – merely an overhaul with advanced multiplexing/software systems that will more efficiently route power from place to place and accommodate surges. Computer networks can also be addressed through engineering solutions. The construction of new coal-fired plants should not figure into the scheme at all. In fact, the 500 filthiest coal-fired plants should be razed immediately and replaced at the same sites with natural gas turbines or CHp plants that do NOT use coal.
So explain to us, G.W., how building one unneeded new power plant per week for the next ten years, while doing virtually nothing to curb auto emissions is going to help improve America’s health?
”This legislation will constitute the most significant step America has ever taken -- has ever taken -- to cut power plant emissions that contribute to urban smog, acid rain and numerous health problems for our citizens. “
If you believe this, I’m sure there’s a thousand or so shares in ENRON out there someone would love to sell you. The Clean Air Act was the most significant step ever taken FORWARD to curb urban smog, acid rain and toxic materials in the air. Bush's legislation, which dismantles the Clean Air Act, is the most significant step ever taken BACKWARD. The Clear Skies Initiative does not, as the Clean Air Act would have, phase out the oldest, filthiest coal-fired plants but instead gives the the go-ahead to continue to pollute and kill for years to come. There are at least 300 of these plants, affecting several million people and millions of square miles of environment. If Bush wanted to cut the emissions that most “contribute to urban smog, acid rain and numerous health problems,” he would shut these plants immediately.
If you want a down and dirty, read ‘em and weep look at this breakdown (CAA = Clean Air Act)
Bush Cap on Nitrogen Oxides: 2.10 million ton by 2008
6-year delay allowed
CAA Cap on Nitrogen Oxides: 1.25 million tons by 2010
No delay allowed
Bush Cap on Sulfur dioxide: 4.5 million tons by 2010
8-year delay allowed
CAA Cap on Sulfur Dioxide: 2.0 million tons by 2012
No delay allowed
Bush Cap on Mercury: 26 pounds /yr by 2008
10-year delay allowed
CAA Cap on Mercury: 5 lbs/yr by 2010
No delay allowed
”The greenhouse gas intensity approach I put forward today gives developing countries a yardstick for progress on climate change that recognizes their right to economic development. I look forward to discussing this new approach next week, when I go to China and Japan and South Korea.
Obviously Bush’s “sound science” advisors failed to mention to him that China is already outstripping the US in the rate of greenhouse gas reductions and is expected to surpass the US within 10 years in meeting targets. The only developed countries that have fallen down on the job of greenhouse gas reduction are those following the Bush lead (Japan and Korea).
China Beats US in Greenhouse Gas Cuts
”We will cut sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent from current levels. We will cut nitrogen oxide emissions by 67 percent. And, for the first time ever, we will cap emissions of mercury, cutting them by 69 percent. These cuts will be completed over two measured phases, with one set of emission limits for 2010 and for the other for 2018.”
This is completely impossible and thus a total lie. Coal-burning power plants are the number one contributor of all these emissions and the Bush-Cheney plan calls for the construction of a minimum of 1,300 plants, most of them coal-fired. Even the much-touted CHp plants, originally supposed to burn mostly biomass, are in fact burning coal – nearly 30 million short tons, total per year. CHp plants in 2001 accounted for a big chunk of the nation’s increase in coal consumption.
Even the General Accounting Office (GAO) knows One of several GAO audits of the Clean Coal Technology Program (CCTP) conclude, "emerging clean coal technologies will probably not contribute significantly to the reduction of acid rain causing emissions during the next 15 years." The Energy Department's own evaluations of some of its projects showed that new "clean coal" technologies were 40 percent less effective in removing sulfur dioxide emissions than conventional smokestack "scrubbers."
In 1998, the first year that electric utilities were required to report releases to the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), these plants ranked number one for toxic air emissions (a total of over half a billion pounds) among all industries. Astoundingly, these plants release more toxic chemical air pollution than the chemical, paper, plastics, and refining industries combined. In the same year, coal- and oil-fired power plants released nearly nine million pounds of toxic metals and metal compounds - many of them known or suspected carcinogens or neurotoxins. These plants release 27 to 54 times more acid gases than the chemical plants that manufacture acid gases commercially! How is this possible? Because the government exempts power plants from federal emissions standards regulating acid gas pollution. Yet we are to believe that somehow, miraculously, we can have hundreds more of these toxic nightmares built and CUT emissions?
NEXT: PART TWO: KING COAL: The Sellout of America's Skies
“Death, Disease and Dirty Power” (Clean Air Task Force report)
Bush-Cheney Energy Plan
“Bush vs the Clean Air Act”
National Energy Report: A Fossil Farce Based On A Hoax (Equality State Policy Center)
World Energy Institute
CIO Insight July 1 2001: Special Roundtable of Experts
Experts included: John Keast, former CIO and CTO of California's Pacific Gas and Electric; Robert B. Handfield, Bank of America University Distinguished Professor of Supply Chain Management College of Managemen;Professor Roger Anderson of Columbia University's Energy Research Center, energy expert Stephen Gehl, and several others.
OPEC (reported by Arabic News)
Lung Cancer, Cardiopulmonary Mortality, and Long-term Exposure to Fine Particulate Air Pollution (JAMA)
A Tale of Six Cities
Long-term Epidemiological Studies Are Validated in Independent Reanalysis
American Lung Association of California Testimony Before the Air Resources Board, June 20, 2002
Estimating the Public Health Benefits of Proposed Air Pollution Regulations (2002)
Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology
Abt Associates (Southeastern States study)
Toxic Air Pollution
Risk of Top Carcinogens in Major Metropolitan Areas
Coal Age magazine, February 2001
Department Of Health And Human Services, National Institutes Of Health
National Institute Of Environmental Health Sciences: Minutes Of The National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council September 9-10, 2002
EPA Toxic Release Inventory
Air of Injustice: African Americans and Power Plant Pollution
DYING NEEDLESSLY: Sickness and Death Due to Energy-Related Air Pollution
Dirty coal in Illinois
The dirty Folly of Clean Coal