Bush `Clear Skies' Proposal Hinders Power Plant Cleanups, Official Says
WASHINGTON President Bush's push to revise the Clean Air Act sometimes has hindered enforcement of the existing law for cleaning up coal-fired power plants, the Justice Department's top environmental lawyer said Tuesday.
Congress has balked so far at enacting Bush's plan to change the way power plants meet air pollution requirements. His "Clear Skies" initiative would ease regulatory controls on utilities and set up a broader market-based system to reduce smokestack emissions.
In the meantime, the Bush administration has prosecuted violations of a Clean Air Act program it wants scaled back to make it less demanding of industry. Companies have negotiated settlements to reduce their pollution and pay fines under the program, which requires added pollution controls when major upgrades or repairs substantially boost emissions.
"We have had some successes regarding settlement. ... The existence of the potential `Clear Skies' initiative in some cases has made a company want to delay their conversations with us. But so what?" said Thomas Sansonetti, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's environment division.
"We should not put forth a proposal for a better law because of a slavish allegiance to an inadequate law?" Sansonetti asked rhetorically during a talk about the program sponsored by the conservative Washington Legal Foundation. "I mean, you need to go ahead and push forward."
Sansonetti's comments came just days after the National Academy of Sciences suggested in an interim report that Bush's air pollution strategies might achieve less at certain plants than the law he wants to replace. While the study says existing law "provides more stringent emission limits for new and modified major sources," the Bush White House maintains that far more pollution reductions would occur overall under its plan.
Sansonetti said settlement talks with industry are continuing, but some companies are hesitant because of the legal uncertainties from various court rulings. It's understandable, he said, for a company to think that "you might well want to see how the cases turn out" before negotiating a settlement with the Justice Department.
The remark is similar to a comment by former EPA Administrator Christie Whitman in March 2002 that was roundly criticized by environmentalists. Whitman suggested that power plants sued for pollution violations might want to hold off settling their cases until an appeals court had ruled on the Tennessee Valley Authority's challenge to her agency's orders.
Source: Associated Press