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Clean Air Act Phobia

Dave Hawkins

Posted March 17, 2011

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It’s a sad state of affairs when members on both sides of the aisle in Congress seem to think it is a good idea to attack the Clean Air Act – the landmark law that Richard Nixon signed and George H. W. Bush strengthened.  Yet the hits on the Clean Air Act just keep on coming in this Congress in spite of the Act’s incredible record of cutting deaths and illness caused by air pollution – a record that has earned the strong support of the American people and the admiration of others around the world.

Clean Air Act phobia appears to be a strangely contagious disease that keeps showing up in members’ pronouncements and draft bills – a disease impervious to information and common sense.  Among the current symptoms of this disease are the attacks on the Act’s provisions that would require some of the world’s largest pollution sources to apply sensible methods to cut the amount of global warming pollution they dump into our atmosphere – the one atmosphere earth has – every year. 

Over the past month or so, I and my colleagues have alerted readers to the latest attacks on the Act (here, here, here, and here, to provide just a few examples).  The new attacks this week have been happening in the Senate: starting with Senator McConnell’s amendment to add a poison pill to an unrelated small business bill and joined by Senator Rockefeller with his own version the next day.

The latest development comes from Senator Max Baucus of Montana.  The trade press reports (subscription required) that the purpose of his amendment is to codify EPA’s rule that exempts small pollution sources from certain Clean Air Act permitting rules.  If the Baucus amendment did only that, there is a good case that Congressional action would make sense.  But, whether intended by Senator Baucus or not, his amendment contains two very damaging provisions that go far beyond codifying the tailoring rule.

First, the amendment would permanently prohibit EPA from looking at global warming emissions due to changes in land use (like cutting down a mature forest or releasing huge amounts of carbon from soils) when calculating how much global warming pollution would result from a new industrial project.  The scientific literature demonstrates that if not produced correctly, biomass energy can increase global warming pollution, not reduce it.  In essence, this provision in the Baucus amendment would require EPA to lie to the public about the true global warming impacts of projects like a new power plant that burns trees for fuel. 

Putting blinders like this on EPA would create large perverse incentives to pursue damaging projects, knowing that the cop had been ordered to look the other way.  The provision would interfere with good biomass projects by preventing EPA from giving those projects credit for increasing the amount of carbon in soils and vegetation. Finally, the provision could prevent implementation of Congress’ renewable fuels standard by preventing accurate calculation of the emissions performance of biofuels.  EPA has embarked on a lengthy process to develop scientifically robust methods of calculating emissions from biomass energy production and use.  Gathering facts from interested parties and experts in an open, transparent process is the right way to address this issue.

Second, the Baucus amendment contains a provision that would permanently exempt even the very largest global warming pollution sources from the Act’s new source permitting requirements unless the source was also a very large source of other pollutants.  While it makes sense to limit the new source program to large pollution sources, it would be a serious mistake to ignore the largest sources of global warming pollution just because they did a good job controlling other pollutants.  Other provisions in the Baucus amendment assure that only very large sources of global warming pollution would be reviewed so this additional provision is unnecessary and harmful.

So I ask those in Congress who think that blocking the Clean Air Act’s global warming pollution programs is reasonable, to consider this.  The damage from such bills would be inflicted on the truly unrepresented -- Americans and other people around the world.  Letting polluters put their global warming wastes in the air today will harm our children and their children and their children’s children.  Global warming pollution just doesn’t go away fast –half the carbon pollution we put in the air when our great-grandfathers fought World War I is still in the air today.  And 1000 years from now, 15% of the pollution from those years will still be in the air.  So Congressional attempts to block EPA from carrying out the Clean Air Act provisions to reduce carbon pollution are no minor missteps, easily remedied by a future Congress.  No, these are actions that would condemn generations to the additional damage caused by pollution than can and must be avoided.  

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meme mineMar 19 2011 05:45 AM

Confirming that the majority of voters are now FORMER climate change believers, it was Obama himself that chose not to mention the climate “crisis” in his State Of The Union Address. 25 MORE years of unstoppable warming belief was not sustainable but the war against pollution itself will never end. Stewardship of the planet will always be a struggle against those that would put environmental protection on the back “burner”. Go Green!

HarryhammerMar 19 2011 03:03 PM

Not true.

The Republican Party is the only political party on the planet that is in denial of the conclusions of the IPCC.

Scientific opinion on anything, whatsoever, is clearly understood.

It’s given by an amalgamation of reports produced by scientific bodies, of both national and international standing, and by surveys of the opinions of climate scientists from everywhere.

The most recent survey showed two things:

It showed that 98% of the world's climate scientists are in agreement.

It also showed that the 2% who disagree are below par researchers.

Think of golf.

The 2% crowd are guys that can't break 100.

The 98% crowd have won the masters.

The most cited living author recently spoke about this. He's been teaching at M.I.T. for 55 years.

He is also considered a prominent cultural figure,while his status as a leading critic of U.S. foreign policy has made him controversial.

HarrryhammerMar 19 2011 03:15 PM

As Chomsky mentions, there are actually three sides to this debate, not two.

First, you have the 2% of below par researchers who know squat.

Second, you have the 98% of scientists who know anything.

A lesser known fact is that the 98% group has two sides of its own.

A substantial number of climate scientists out there believe that the consensus predictions of the IPCC are much too optimistic.

Most of the IPCC’s climate models from 10 years ago were wrong. They were for the most part too conservative.

The earth is warming much faster than any of these models predicted.

In terms of warming, we are seeing the IPCC’s worst case scenario unfolding before our eyes.

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