Passage of Air Quality Legislation is Cloudy -- An ENN Commentary
The U.S. stands poised to make the most significant changes to its air quality in fifteen years. EPA has estimated that the health and productivity benefits from the original Clean Air Act of 1970 have now exceeded 6 trillion dollars at a cost of less than 600 billion (or 10-fold return on investment). In 1990, the revised Clean Air Act resulted in reductions of "acid rain" that exceeded all predictions using a market-based cap-and-trade approach.
The 109th Congress is now considering legislation to address reductions of air emissions from power plants, including the administration's "Clear Skies" initiative, which was introduced by President Bush during his State of the Union Address in 2003. Two additional Senate proposals would result in further reductions at presumably higher costs. These three draft pieces of legislation differ in the amount, type, and schedule of emission reductions that would be covered under federal law. However, they all would decrease the amount of waste being released from these sources. An integral part of each proposal is the reliance on pollution prevention approaches to achieve these reductions. The result would be sustained improvements in human health and the environment.
At present, the Senate appears to be in a deadlock, with a potential consequence that no legislation would be passed. If this were to happen, EPA would then finalize the proposed Clean Air Interstate Rule. This approach, however, could be blocked by legal challenges in the courts and the result would be no improvement in our air quality.
Congress, with involvement from the administration, needs to put aside its differences and enact legislation which will result in the improvement of our air quality. By incorporating pollution prevention approaches, the reduced emissions would be sustained into the future. The economic benefits would also make future improvements to the emission reductions easier to implement and achieve. Whether it is the "Clear Skies" initiative or something else is not important. What matters most is that the air quality is improved in a sustainable and economically viable manner that will make all of us breathe a little easier.
Jeffrey Burke is Executive Director of National Pollution Prevention Roundtable, the largest membership organization in the United States devoted solely to pollution prevention.