From: Chris Baltimore, Reuters
Published March 10, 2005 12:00 AM

Utility Pollution Bill Stalls in Senate

WASHINGTON — A Bush administration plan to cut air pollution from coal-fired power plants failed to pass the Senate Environment Committee Wednesday, a setback for a bill that critics said favors the utility industry over public health.


However, the Environmental Protection Agency faces a March 15 court deadline to issue its own rules, which will closely mirror the unsuccessful bill.


Senate panel chairman James Inhofe of Oklahoma, a Republican, delayed a vote by the committee three times in recent weeks as he tried to get one more vote for the so-called "Clear Skies" legislation. But the panel deadlocked 9-9, with Democrats, Rhode Island Republican Lincoln Chafee and independent Jim Jeffords of Vermont voting against the bill.


The bill would cut emissions of three harmful pollutants -- mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides -- from U.S. coal-fired power plants by 2016 through a cap-and-trade system. Opponents say the plan would give utilities too much time to install costly pollution-reduction equipment while failing to require cuts in greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide that have been linked to climate change.


Many scientists blame carbon dioxide for a gradual rise in the temperature of Earth's atmosphere that is affecting coastal areas, icebergs and wildlife.


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"The U.S. Congress is the last bastion of denial on climate change," Chafee said.


Bush Says Bill Needed


President Bush expressed optimism Congress would be able to salvage the legislation. The bill "uses the power of free markets to reduce power plant pollution by 70 percent without disrupting the energy supply or raising electricity prices," Bush said in a speech in Columbus, Ohio.


The EPA's planned administrative regulations "provide some of the same benefits as Clear Skies, but they are not a substitute for effective legislation," Bush said.


During the Senate panel's meeting, Inhofe blamed what he called "environmental extremists" for trying to block the bill.


Delaware Democrat Tom Carper, who wants stricter emission limits, pointed out that the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race across Alaska has been moved farther north because of receding snow levels. "Something is going on here," he said, calling for action on climate change.


Democrat Barbara Boxer of California criticized the bill for delaying human health protection at the behest of utility lobbyists. Naming the plan "Clear Skies," Boxer said, is "akin to calling Frankenstein Tom Cruise."


Inhofe said the bill would have improved the Clean Air Act, which as written "means more litigation, more costs and less certainty for businesses and less certain cuts in pollution."


Now that the Senate bill has failed, the EPA is expected to issue two rules limiting mercury emissions by utilities and launching a trading program for nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide pollution in the Eastern half of the United States.


The EPA faces a court-ordered March 15 deadline because of a consent decree the Bush administration signed with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that has pressed for reductions in mercury emissions, which can harm young children's developing nervous systems.


Other emissions from coal-fired plants, which generate about half of the nation's electricity, have been linked to asthma, chronic bronchitis and pneumonia.


Source: Reuters


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