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Key Events

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Global warming
Wildlife protection
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Mercury
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Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations
Clear Skies
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The Bush administration's environmental record: Clear Skies initiative

 
  

Project: The Bush administration's environmental record

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(2003-July 2003)

       EPA staffers are instructed by higher-ups not to analyze any mercury or carbon dioxide reduction proposals that conflict with the President's “Clear Skies” bill or, if they do, to keep the results under wraps. For example, an alternative proposal sponsored by Senators Thomas R. Carper and Lincoln Chaffee is analyzed by the EPA but its conclusions—showing that the Carper-Chaffee plan has some advantages over Clear Skies—are not released. According to one EPA staffer later interviewed by the New York Times, Jeffrey Holmstead, the assistant administrator for air programs, wondered out loud during a May 2 meeting, “How can we justify Clear Skies if this gets out?” And in June, EPA administrator Christie Whitman sends a letter to Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman, informing them that the EPA will not do economic analysis on their alternative plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions as they requested. Senator McCain later tells the New York Times that he did “not feel it was normal procedure to refuse to analyze a bill that is under the agency's jurisdiction.” [New York Times, 7/14/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Lincoln Chaffee, Joseph Lieberman, Thomas R. Carper, Bush administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Jeffrey Holmstead, John McCain
          

June 5, 2003

       A White House aide tells Congress that the administration overestimated the expected reduction in mercury emissions that would result from the implementation of its “Clear Skies” plan. [The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/6/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] The EPA is under court orders to finalize a mercury reduction plan, which would update the Clean Air Act, by December 15, 2003. The current version of the Clean Air Act has no provisions covering mercury, a byproduct of coal-burning power plants. [New York Times, 7/14/2003] The administration's “Clear Skies” plan had predicted that if sulfur and nitrogen compound emissions were reduced by 70 percent in 2010 as the plan proposes, there would be a concomitant reduction in mercury pollution from coal power plants to about 26 tons a year nationally. But a revised estimate put the expected reduction between 2 and 14 tons. Since Congress' current draft of the Clean Air Act had set a reduction target of 22 tons by 2010 based on the plan's previous figures, energy industry lobbyists and some pro-industry senators are now arguing that the mercury reduction goal should likewise be set to a smaller amount. [The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/6/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration
          

November 26, 2003

       EPA officials complete a draft proposal outlining plans to revise the conclusion of a court-ordered December 2000 EPA study which had determined that mercury emissions “pose significant hazards to public health and must be reduced.” As a result of the 2000 study, the agency had been ordered to propose a “maximum achievable control technology” (MACT) standard for all coal-burning power plants by December 15, 2003. [EPA, 12/14/2000; The Washington Post, 12/3/2003; Associated Press, 12/2/2003 Sources: Mercury White Paper] But instead of complying with this mandate, the EPA's current draft proposal on the regulation of mercury emissions attempts to modify the December 2000 conclusion claiming that it had been based on a misreading of the Clean Air Act. Citing a different provision in the Clean Air Act, the draft proposal recommends a flexible regulatory approach that is more acceptable to industry. It suggests a market-based mandatory “cap and trade” program permitting utility companies to purchase emissions “credits” from cleaner-operating utilities to meet an industry-wide standard. It is estimated that their plan would reduce mercury emissions to 34 tons a year by 2010, or about 30 percent below current levels. But this is a much higher cap than the 26-ton limit initially specified in the White House's “Clear Skies” initiative (see June 5, 2003). The White House claims that by 2018 their “cap and trade” plan would result in a mercury emissions reduction of 70 percent, which is significantly less than the 90 percent reduction that would otherwise be achieved within 3 or 4 years, if the EPA were to keep to the original December 2000 ruling. [The Washington Post, 12/3/2003; Associated Press, 12/2/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Environmental Protection Agency
          


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