New Report Finds Electric, Gas and Sanitary Services Will Emit More Toxic Chemicals into Colorado’s Air Under ‘Clear Skies’ Bill

Environment Colorado

DENVER—Under the Bush administration’s “Clear Skies” bill, scheduled for a vote tomorrow in a key Senate committee, as many as 220 industrial facilities in Colorado would not have to comply with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules that require steep reductions in their emissions of dozens of pollutants that cause cancer, birth defects, and other serious health problems, according to “Lethal Loophole,” a new report released today by Environment Colorado. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is scheduled to vote on the bill on Wednesday, March 2.

“This bill clears the way for electric services, oil refineries and chemical plants to legally pollute Colorado’s air with an alphabet soup of toxic chemicals, threatening the health of people across the state,” said Elizabeth-Ann Rowlison, Clean Air Advocate for Environment Colorado.

“Any time we roll back air quality protections, it threatens public health,” added Manisha Blair, Air Quality Coordinator for the American Lung Association of Colorado. “This legislation could mean an increase in asthma and other lung diseases for Colorado.”

The loophole, hidden in the bill’s definition of an “affected unit,” weakens current law for a wide range of industries, including electric and gas services, oil refineries, chemical plants, and pulp and paper mills. These industries emit dozens of toxic air pollutants, including such known human carcinogens as arsenic, benzene, and chromium, as well as lead, formaldehyde, and other harmful chemicals.

According to Environment Colorado’s report, the industries covered by the loophole emitted 1,584,862 pounds of toxic air pollutants into Colorado’s air in 2002.

“The Bush administration’s bill has always been a bad deal for Americans who want to breathe clean air,” said Rowlison. “This hidden loophole for some of the worst industrial polluters makes it even worse.”

Specifically, the bill allows industrial boilers and process heaters to “opt in” to the bill and “opt out” of major sections of the Clean Air Act, including a 2004 EPA rule that requires each and every industrial boiler and process heater to reduce its emissions of toxic air pollutants to the maximum extent by 2007; New Source Review, which requires old plants to eventually meet modern pollution standards; and visibility protections for national parks and wilderness areas.

EPA has performed no analyses to date on the effects of this loophole on public health or the environment. As a first step to understanding the potential implications for Colorado, the Environment Colorado report uses EPA data to estimate the number of industrial facilities in the state that could take advantage of the loophole and their annual emissions of toxic air pollution. The analysis is conservatively limited to industrial boilers and process heaters, though the bill, as introduced, extends the exemption to other industrial sources as well.

In addition to this loophole, the bill would delay until well after 2018 reductions in power plant sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions called for in the Clean Air Act by the end of this decade; repeal the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review program, which requires the oldest and dirtiest plants to eventually meet modern pollution standards; force residents of heavily-polluted areas to wait longer for clean air than under current law; and repeal protections that require every power plant to reduce mercury to the maximum extent (about 90 percent) by 2008.

“‘Clear Skies’ is just a clever disguise for an industry-backed attack on the Clean Air Act,” said Rowlison. “We call on Senator Salazar to reject the bill,” she concluded.