Thursday, September 18, 2003

Bush's environmental plan weakens current enforcement

Guest opinion

Guest columnist Attila Kilinc's opinion ["Coal technology is an energy success that we should exploit," Aug. 27] ignores the 800-pound gorilla in the room: dirty coal-burning power plants are making us sick with toxic air pollution that causes thousands of asthma attacks, heart attacks, cancer, and premature deaths each year.

The good news is that existing Clean Air Act laws are effective in cleaning up these power plants. The problem is that the Bush administration is abandoning strong enforcement of these laws.

Mr. Kilinc apologizes for the Bush administration's so-called "Clear Skies" plan, but the truth is that the president's proposal would replace an existing, effective power plant clean-up law with a weaker, less protective health standard advocated by the big utilities.

You decide what you want for your lungs: The Bush plan allows 520 percent more mercury pollution, 68 percent more nitrogen oxide pollution, and 225 percent more sulphur dioxide pollution than would be allowed than under strong enforcement of existing Clean Air Act programs (see sierraclub.org/energy for details).

The local health impact of the administration's dirty air plan is alarming. Currently, dirty coal-burning power plants are responsible for more than 370 premature deaths, nearly 250 hospitalizations, and more than 7,800 asthma attacks every year in the Tristate alone. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, the Bush administration is undermining the tentative agreement struck by the Department of Justice and Cinergy in 2000 to clean up several of their aging power plants, including Beckjord, the 1950s-era plan in New Richmond. Watching the Bush administration attack the law that forced the company to the bargaining table, no wonder Cinergy has yet to finalize the agreement that they lauded at the time as a sensible solution to modernize their plants with state-of-the-art pollution controls.

The President's behavior is puzzling to many. The Cinergy clean-up agreement is one of many recent examples that demonstrate the effectiveness of existing clean-air laws, so why would he stop enforcing and attempt to gut the very law responsible for cleaner air?

Who stands to benefit from placing communities at risk, particularly children and the elderly who are significantly threatened by air pollution? We can and should do better.

Glen Brand, Midwest Representative, Sierra Club

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