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'Clear Skies' plan: the battle heats up

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The model here is the "cap and trade" method of reducing pollution, successfully, used for acid rain that's been relatively litigation-free. "The Clear Skies legislation will clean up the air by reducing utility emissions faster, more cheaply, and more efficiently than the Clean Air Act," says James Inhofe (R) of Oklahoma, who chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. "Anyone who doubts this either does not understand the legislation or has not paid attention to the endless litigation over the last 15 years."

Republican-turned-Independent Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont, one of the authors of major Clean Air Act amendments 15 years ago, takes a decidedly different view.

The president's proposal "is rife with loopholes for polluters and litigation," says Mr. Jeffords, the senior minority member of the Senate committee. It "rewrites major portions of the Clean Air Act to delay attainment of the health-based standards - leaving millions of Americans to breathe dirty air longer."

Meanwhile, a long list of outside interests has been weighing in as well.

The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (whose members install and maintain much of the pollution-control equipment in the US) favors Bush's Clear Skies Act. "It requires $52 billion in investment to meet air-quality standards, a significant portion of which will be paid in wages to boilermakers and other union craftsman," says union lobbyist Abraham Breehey.

State and local pollution-control officials point out that great gains have been made under current law since its initial passage 35 years ago: Emissions have been cut by 50 percent at the same time the nation's gross domestic product was increasing 176 percent and population grew by 39 percent. That means the cost of doing business in this country, as measured by pollution, has dropped considerably.

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