A win and a loss
Published: Saturday, January 3, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 2, 2004 at 11:11 p.m.
As 2004 begins, the Bush administration already is finding new ways to help business at the expense of the public.
Christmas came one day early last week for those who oppose the Bush administration's efforts to gut the Clean Air Act.
On the day before Christmas, a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington blocked the administration from implementing a new rule that would allow aging power generators, oil refineries and other manufacturing plants to upgrade their facilities without having to install modern pollution control equipment.
The administration's so-called routine maintenance loophole would have allowed companies to replace up to 20 percent of the value of their plants without the need to install air scrubbers or other controls. The loophole was deemed so egregious that a dozen states, several cities and a coalition of environmental groups joined in a legal battle to oppose its implementation.
The court ruling isn't the end of the battle. But it is an indication that the courts recognize that the rule change could result in significant harm to the natural environment and public health.
"The administration's rule change would allow industry to renovate facilities in ways that dramatically increase air pollution without installing up-to-date pollution controls or even notifying nearby residents," said Keri Powell, of Earthjustice, one of the groups involved in the litigation. "The stay will prevent industry from taking advantage of this illegal loophole while the court challenge is pending."
Added John Waker, director of the National Resources Defense Counsel, "This is a great Christmas gift. The court has delivered tiding to joy to all Americans and a lump of coal to the Bush administration and its polluter friends."
The bad news is while this particular assault on environmental protection has been suspended, at least temporarily, the administration is already moving on another front to attack the Clean Air Act.
This month, the Environmental Protection Agency revised its timetable for coal-burning power plants to reduce harmful mercury pollution. Previously, the agency had said plants must reduce their emissions by 90 percent within three years. Now the EPA is giving plants 10 years to achieve a 30 percent reduction, and until 2018 to cut emissions by 70 percent.
Mercury emissions fall to Earth and end up in the water, where it accumulates in fish. Pregnant women who eat mercury-laden fish are at risk of giving birth to children who are mentally retarded or have lifelong learning disabilities. The technology already exists to significantly reduce mercury emissions from coal-burning plants, so the EPA's decision to greatly extend the deadline for doing so is an economic sop to the utilities industry, but jeopardizes the health and well-being of Americans, and especially children.
Going into the new year, the Bush administration is one-for-one in its assault on the Clean Air Act. In favoring corporate profits over human health, this president is building an ugly and unworthy environmental legacy for himself.
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