We commend Senators Carper (D-DE), Chafee (R-RI), Alexander (R-TN), and Gregg (R-NH) for substantially improving the air quality provisions in their bill (“The Clean Air Planning Act”), which the senators reintroduced today. Old, outdated power plants are the nation’s largest industrial source of air pollution. Nearly three-quarters of all power plant boilers are over 30 years old and most continue to operate without modern pollution control technology. These aging plants release 99% of the sulfur dioxide, 98% of nitrogen oxides, and the majority of mercury from power plants, contributing to respiratory and cardiovascular problems, learning disabilities in children, and tens of thousands of premature deaths each year in the U.S. The Clean Air Planning Act would require power plants to significantly reduce these emissions over the next 10 years. Unlike the Bush administration’s “Clear Skies” legislation, this new bill does not weaken Clean Air Act protections that require individual power plants to clean up.
However, power plants also are the nation’s single largest source of carbon dioxide emissions, the primary global warming pollutant. Unfortunately, the bill would allow plant owners to avoid real global warming emission reductions by offsetting them with reductions in other sectors. This loophole allows the nation’s largest global warming polluters off the hook for reducing their share of global warming emissions. Offsets also reduce the certainty of achieving real emission reductions since they are difficult to verify, there is the potential for the shifting of pollution with no actual reductions, and there is a great risk that emission reductions that would have occurred anyway are given credit.
In addition, the bill would create windfall profits for power companies by giving carbon dioxide emission allowances away for free and includes an additional windfall for “incremental nuclear generation” since 1990, despite nuclear power’s intractable waste and safety problems.