Wednesday July 17, 2002 Volume 67, Issue 156


Clean Air amendment a bad idea

Thomas Asma
Opinion Columnist

The Senate Environment and Public Works committee recently approved an amendment to the Clean Air Act by a 10-9 vote, a
characteristically thin margin for such sweeping, extreme legislation.

The Clean Power Act, authored and sponsored by the committee chairman James Jeffords, Independent from Vermont, would
impose the nation's first controls on carbon dioxide, to the tune of 25 percent of current levels. These carbon dioxide controls are the
centerpiece of the bill. The bill would also curb three other pollutants: sulfur dioxide by 95 percent, which causes acid rain, nitrous
oxides by 85 percent, and mercury by 90 percent. These cuts would have to be made by 2008.

Max Baucus of Montana, a powerful Democratic dissenting vote, rebuked Jeffords for lack of compromise and predicts that the costs
of implementing these controls will be so high as to put many coal fired power plants out of commission.

The mercury controls, for example, are so high as to be impossible. Jefford's plan would cut mercury emissions from 41 tons per
year to just five, and there would be no trading of emission permits to mitigate fluctuations in demand for the right to emit. The
electricity industry says that current technology can decrease mercury by about 40 percent, but not to the levels required by this bill.

Coal constitutes fully half of the country's electricity, primarily because it is our cheapest energy source and its emissions have gotten
progressively cleaner during the past hundred years. The Edison Electricity Institute points out that existing control programs for
sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions "will reduce tons of both emissions by half from their highest levels."

If a bill such as Jefford's damages such a large and crucial 

portion of our energy producing capacity, then more expensive means of energy will need to fill the void, such as natural gas.

California relies mostly on natural gas for electricity, and that dependency is what helped create the California energy crisis. They did
not allow coal to provide a buffer from the volatility of the natural gas market, and this volatility hammered California. The shock our
electrical system would sustain attempting to change half of energy capacity to a different source of fuel would only compound the
volatility of gas prices and drive them up even further.

As is the case of most environmental regulation, the poor would suffer the most under this bill. The well off will be less sensitive to
price increases, while seniors receiving social security will experience even more pressure on their already small, fixed income.

Jefford's plan has all the trappings of the Kyoto protocol: prohibitively large cost and GDP contraction, with little real result on the
concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. A quarter of the nation's emissions of carbon dioxide from power plants are a
small fraction of the total global emissions of the compound.

Cutting this amount will not delay a rise in global temperature, due to the sheer amount that the rest of America and the world emit.
The developing world, namely China and India, have refused to partake in any such emission reduction scheme. While American
industry struggles under the yoke of such oppressive regulation, China and India will continue to increase their emissions, past
current U.S. levels, making the reductions in the bill even more ineffective.

It is easy for Jeffords to sit atop his high platitudes and dictate how the rest of the busy nation should fuel itself. Fortunately, the stark
nature of Jefford's legislation is perhaps its best quality, for the tight caps and cost thereof are so unreasonable that this measure is
sure not to garner any support from Senators whose states actually have work to do.

Asma, a sophomore political
science major, can be reached at

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