A bipartisan group of four U.S. Senators today urged electric companies to continue operating pollution emission controls while Congress seeks a legislative remedy to replace a federal clean air rule that was struck down last month by a federal appeals court.
A letter, signed by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), and Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), asked Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) to work with member utilities to “prevent unnecessary pollution from harming our communities.”
On July 11, 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), which set a federal requirement for power plants in 28 eastern states and the District of Columbia to reduce sulfur and nitrogen emissions by using a cap-and-trade program.
“We are concerned that during that time it takes to draft and pass legislation, millions of Americans in the Eastern United States will be exposed to harmful pollutants that otherwise would be eliminated by CAIR,” the senators wrote.
Nationwide, two out of five Americans live in counties that have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particulate matter – both serious health hazards for people who suffer from asthma and other lung diseases, with 24,000 people dying each year from sulfur dioxide emissions alone.
All four senators are supportive of a comprehensive legislative approach that addresses not only sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, but also controlling mercury and carbon dioxide.
“It is very good news that the Tennessee Valley Authority will continue to implement its clean air program as planned despite the Clean Air Interstate Rule having been struck down by the D.C. Circuit,” said Alexander, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. TVA is installing scrubbers to harmful emissions at the coal plants nearest the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2008, 2010, and 2012. “By installing scrubbers at the three coal plants closest to the Smokies, TVA will help reduce emissions in the area and help east Tennessee comply with smog limits. I encourage other electric companies to follow TVA’s lead in pursuing air pollution clean-up programs. ”
“What matters most is that we not backslide, but instead continue to take comprehensive steps that make deep and meaningful reductions in nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and other dangerous pollutants,” said Sen. Carper, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety. “My home state of Delaware struggles to meet its clean air goals because we’re at the end of America’s tailpipe. We simply cannot improve the air quality along the Eastern seaboard if the pollution sources in upwind states neglect their clean air obligations.”
“Our nation is facing significant air quality challenges, and New Hampshire’s environment, as well as our health and welfare, is put at risk by air pollution migrating from Boston, New York, and the Midwest,” Gregg said. “While the Courts may find it problematic to protect states from interstate pollution, I believe it is important that states and the utility industry continue to meet emission reduction targets and deadlines as set forth by the Clean Air Interstate Rule. It is critical that Congress take steps to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and address climate change, and am therefore pleased to be part of this strong, bipartisan effort to put forth legislation that finds a comprehensive solution to help ensure air quality is protected and that the clean air benefits under CAIR are not lost.”
Sanders said, “As a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, I trust that we will work to plug the hole left in the wake of the court’s decision. In the meantime, however, power plant companies must continue to reduce their emissions of harmful pollutants that jeopardize public health. In fact, they should use this opportunity to be ahead of the curve instead of behind it.”
CAIR would have reduced sulfur dioxide emissions in the participating states and D.C. by over 70 percent and nitrogen oxide emissions by over 60 percent from 2003 levels. EPA predicted that by the year 2015, CAIR would have provided $85 to $100 billion in annual health benefits and cost approximately $4 billion. EPA also estimated CAIR would have annually prevented 17,000 premature deaths, millions of lost work and school days, and tens of thousands of non-fatal heart attacks and hospital admissions.