February 04, 2005
In This Issue
Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Chairman James Inhofe
(R-OK) and Senate EPW Clean Air and Climate Change Subcommittee Chairman George
Voinovich (R-OH) reintroduced the Clear Skies bill with only minor technical
changes compared with its most recent version from the 108th Congress.
But because Clear Skies does not address power plant emissions of carbon
dioxide — and also due to the regulatory relief it provides the electric
utility industry — the administration’s bill appears as if it will gain little
traction in the Senate. A 9-9 tie vote in committee is anticipated should it be
offered in its current form, according to several key members of the EPW panel
who in recent hearings have stated their positions against Clear Skies.
At the most recent hearing, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) echoed all EPW
Committee Democrats in criticizing Clear Skies for its language that she said
dismantles the existing Clean Air Act. “It’s worse than doing nothing,” she
said. The bill was also criticized at the hearing for its creation of a trading
program for mercury emissions.
Inhofe, Voinovich and the administration are working with limited time to
pass into law the new amendments to the Clean Air Act, as the EPA is poised to
issue a final regulation by mid-March known as the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR)
that sets Clear Skies-like limits on SO2 and NOx emissions for power plants.
Clear Skies’ supporters on Capitol Hill contend a finished CAIR would make it
more difficult to get other lawmakers’ attention focused on the issue.
Voinovich has threatened to abandon the issue if Democrats block the bill by
insisting that it include climate change provisions. He said he would table the
Clear Skies initiative and alternative measures if lawmakers cannot reach
agreement in six months. Voinovich has said he would not endorse a deal that
included mandatory carbon dioxide emission caps for the electric utility sector.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Inspector General charged that the
agency ignored scientific evidence and agency protocols in order to set limits
on mercury pollution that would line up with the Bush administration’s
free-market approaches to power plant pollution.
Staff at the EPA were instructed by administrators to set modest limits on
mercury pollution, and then had to work backward from the predetermined goal to
justify the proposal, according to a report by Inspector General Nikki Tinsley.
The report, citing anonymous agency staff members and internal e-mail
messages, said the technological and scientific analysis by the agency was
“compromised” to keep cleanup costs down for the utility industry.
The proposal in contention was issued by the agency in December 2003 to clamp
down on pollution by mercury, which also occurs naturally in the environment.
Tinsley called for an “unbiased” restructuring of the plan, even if it meant
delaying the rule beyond next month, which is when it is scheduled to be
Agency officials disputed her charges, claiming that Tinsley did not
understand the science and limitations of mercury control.
The agency’s plan made clear that the EPA preferred to regulate mercury in a
manner similar to the proposals in President Bush’s “Clear Skies” legislative
initiative. This cap-and-trade approach calls for a system whereby polluters
must meet collective pollution-control targets but can trade credits so that not
all plants must meet the same standard. It aims for overall reductions in
mercury of about 29 percent by 2010, and a total reduction of 70 percent by
The only alternative to the plan was the more conventional approach to
pollutants — a cap on the pollution emitted at every plant. This proposal
called on power plants to reduce mercury emissions from about 48 tons a year to
34 tons by 2008 — a reduction of about 25 percent.
The IG’s report criticized both ideas. It said the free-market approach did
not fully account for “hot spots” — areas that could end up with higher levels
of pollutants under the cap-and-trade system — and several specific health
concerns, including the impact on Native American tribes.
The 25 percent target in the other option was smaller than it should have
been, the report said, and was obtained only after scientists were given the
number and told to find ways to justify it.
Coal-fired power plants are the largest remaining domestic source of mercury
emissions in the United States, according to agency figures, although the agency
believes that factories and utilities in Asia, which emit more than 1,000 tons
of mercury annually, contribute significantly to the mercury that enters the
food chain in the United States. Domestic coal-fired power plants emitted 48 of
the 113.2 million tons produced in the United States in 1999.
The Bush administration continues to voice support for ratification of the
U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, butting heads with conservatives in the
Senate who stymied the treaty’s progress during the 108th Congress.
During her confirmation hearings to become Secretary of State, Condoleeza
Rice reiterated the administration’s support for the treaty. “We very much want
to see it go into force,” she said.
The debate over the treaty features the unusual pairing of the administration
and environmentalists, with both arguing ratification is necessary to protect
U.S. shipping, environmental and deep sea mining interests.
The wide-ranging measure provides for a comprehensive framework of ocean
management and has been described by many as a “constitution for the oceans.” It
delineates offshore jurisdictions, including a 200-mile exclusive economic zone
that countries can manage at their discretion, and outlines a comprehensive
marine protection program with requirements for marine environmental assessments
and enforcement of species protection measures. It would allow countries to
apply to extract natural resources outside the 200-mile limit.
Conservatives in the Senate, led by Environment and Public Works Committee
Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK), are wary of the treaty because they say it would
cede U.S. authority over safe passage rights for the U.S. Navy and allow the
levying of taxes on U.S. offshore oil, gas and mineral development. Inhofe has
also raised the question of whether the Law of the Sea could regulate U.S. naval
activities related to marine mammals and sonar, for example.
The Foreign Relations Committee unanimously adopted the treaty last year, but
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) did not schedule it for a floor vote.
Because of Senate procedures, the committee must approve the treaty once again
before it can be considered by the full chamber.
Controversy continues to surround a school board decision in Dover,
Pennsylvania requiring biology teachers to teach the concept of ‘Intelligent
Design’, the idea that the complexity of life is caused by the action of an
intelligent agent. The board’s statement (www.dover.k12.pa.us/doversd/site/default.asp)
officially puts intelligent design into an U.S. public school curriculum for the
first time. The statement also bars scientific discussion in the classroom of
the origin of life on Earth.
The science faculty at Dover High School united in opposition and requested
that they be excused from delivering the mandatory missive on intelligent
design. In a letter to Dover School Superintendent Richard Nilsen, they stated
unequivocally that “Intelligent design is not science”, and argued that reading
the four-paragraph statement would force them to “knowingly and intentionally
misrepresent subject matter or curriculum.”
Nilsen acquiesced. He then visited all ninth-grade biology classes at the
high school and read the statement—without taking any questions afterward. This
prompted a biology teacher to walk out after 12 years at Dover High School.
Other Dover science teachers say a cloud still hangs over their heads as a
A group of Dover-area parents have asked a U.S. District Court to declare the
school board’s statement unconstitutional. A trial is scheduled for September.
The European Commission has proposed phasing out mercury exports by 2011 as
part of an effort to reduce emissions. The E.U. plan potentially sets up a
confrontation with the United States at the upcoming U.N. Environment Programme
meeting on the global mercury trade. The United States has not submitted its
official position on how to proceed with reducing mercury emissions and trading,
but government officials and environmentalists say the U.S. proposal would rely
mainly on voluntary public-private partnerships rather than new regulations.
The European Union is the world’s largest exporter of mercury, accounting for
about 1,000 tons of the world’s supply of 3,600 tons. The commission said Monday
that global demand for mercury could be reduced to 1,000 tons by 2020 if steps
are taken now.
The commission recommendation calls for the European Union to cooperate with
other countries to control the trade in mercury as well as its emissions and use
in manufacturing and mining. Ultimately, the commission says, a global agreement
may be needed to phase out mercury production, just as the Montreal Protocol has
done on substances that deplete the earth’s ozone layer.
Sources: Environment & Energy Daily; Greenwire; New York Times; Science; Washington Post