Peter Bahouth, Executive Director
March 21, 2011
Climate Action Hotline
Under the guise of protecting small businesses, higher gas prices and continued high unemployment numbers, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) pushed to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from moving forward on new pollution regulations, but failed to get to a vote Thursday, after days of enigmatic maneuvering that made it appear the measure was close to being voted on several times. The amendment to bar EPA ability to set standards for carbon pollution came on the heels of the House passage of Rep. Upton’s (R-MI) Dirty Air Act.
The White House came out strong against the GOP amendment to nullify the EPA’s power to set standards for carbon pollution. Many feel that the White House decision to weigh in directly on the amendment signifies the ever-escalating stakes of the Republican-led effort to obliterate what is seen as the Obama leftist agenda. “This amendment rolls back the Clean Air Act and harms Americans’ health by taking away our ability to decrease air pollution,” said Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman.
While McConnell’s amendment faces major hurdles to passage, but it remains a tough vote for politically vulnerable centrist Democrats and moderate Republicans. Yet another new EPA-specific measure added to the mix by Montana Sen. Max Baucus (D) would ensure that agriculture sources would be exempt from climate rules, while preventing the agency from regulating large stationary sources that do not exceed other pollutant limits. In addition, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) offered his bill that is a 2-year stop work order on any EPA plans to set standards for carbon pollution.
Rockefeller’s bill, cloaked in a shroud of a “middle path” approach, is just another means to an end: an end that ignores the science, health and environment of Americans. All three initiatives were introduced as amendments to a pending small business bill, creating what Rockefeller referred to as a “swirl” of options for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to navigate.
In response to Japan’s ongoing nuclear reactor crisis, President Obama asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to make a comprehensive safety review of U.S. nuclear plants with specific focus on their ability to withstand natural calamities. NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko continues to reinforce that the commission considers the 104 active U.S. nuclear plants to be secure, but the evidence from Japan’s devastating reactor damage would be the basis for a new review. “But I want to emphasize and stress that we have a very robust program where we look at the safety and the security of our nuclear facilities on a minute-by-minute basis. ” In related news, a new USA Today/Gallup poll shows a dramatic decline of support for nuclear power in the wake of the ongoing Japanese earthquake-tsunami one-two punch: 70% say they’ve grown more concerned about the industry’s safety based on the crisis unfolding at reactors in Japan. Americans oppose building more nuclear plants by 47%-44%, the poll finds. Support for using nuclear energy was at 57% when Gallup asked a similar question about a week before Friday’s earthquake and tsunami left Japan struggling to avert catastrophic meltdowns and fires at three damaged nuclear plants.
On Wednesday, the EPA issued a new proposed rule that would reduce emissions of toxic air pollutants from power plants including mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel, chloride (HCl) and hydrogen fluoride (HF). The proposal would reduce emissions from new and existing coal- and oil-fired electric utility steam generating units (EGUs). The rules would replace President Bush’s Clean Air Mercury Rule, a cap-and-trade program that would have forced power plants to cut their mercury emissions by 70 percent. In 2008, a federal court ordered EPA to go back to the drawing board. The target of this proposed rule includes toxics suspected of causing cancer and other serious health effects. Power plants are the largest source of mercury emissions to the air. Mercury and other power plant emissions also damage ecosystems and destroy the health of lakes, streams and fish. Other toxic metals emitted from power plants, such as arsenic, chromium and nickel can cause cancer. A side benefit of the rule is that it will reduce power plant particulate pollution, preventing thousands of premature deaths, tens of thousands of heart attacks, bronchitis cases and asthma episodes.
Georgia Power, the largest subsidiary of Southern Company, announced plans to close two coal-fired power plants units in central Georgia, saying the cost is too high to equip them to meet current and pending environmental regulations. The two units in Putnam County have a capacity of 569 megawatts. The announcement comes as renewed attention is focusing on Georgia Power’s nuclear plants because of the continuing crisis in Japan. Georgia Power has four nuclear reactors and is one of two U.S. utilities building new ones. The company has advocated for nuclear power as regulations tighten on coal. The company had hinted last year that it might close some of its coal plants because of regulations on air emissions, water treatment and the disposal of ash coal waste.
Kellyn Eberhardt, Southeast Regional Coordinator