Advice Goddess Blog
« Previous | Home | Next »

Bush's (Cough, Cough) Clean Air Policy
Yank the regulations and, Bush says, "trust" the people in profit mode at the power plants "to make the right decisions." Hmmm, the public's lungs/profits? Profits/the public's lungs? Is anybody wondering which side of the equation will win? Bruce Barcott tells the tale in Sunday's New York Times:

Power plants pump dozens of chemicals into the air; among the most harmful are nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and mercury. Nitrogen oxides are major producers of ground-level ozone, or smog, and they interact in the atmosphere with sulfur dioxide, water and oxygen to form acid rain. Mercury, a highly toxic chemical that is emitted as a vapor when coal is burned, has been found to cause brain disorders in developing fetuses and young children, and unhealthy levels of it have recently been detected in swordfish and tuna.

The most disturbing research, though, involved fine particulates, the tiny particles of air pollution that spew out of smokestacks and lodge deep within the lungs of people nearby and even miles away. During the late 80's and 90's, medical researchers found that long-term exposure to fine particulates caused asthma attacks in children and raised the risk of chronic bronchitis in adults. Coal-fired plants account for about 60 percent of the nation's sulfur dioxide emissions and 40 percent of the mercury, and power plants as a whole are the nation's second-largest source of nitrogen-oxides pollution, after automobiles. Public health researchers estimate that fine-particulate pollution from power plants shortens the lives of more than 30,000 Americans every year. Pollution-controlling technology, while costly, can make an enormous difference. A new scrubber can cut emissions up to 95 percent.

Spurred on by that research, E.P.A. officials mounted a campaign to clean up the illegally polluting coal-fired power plants. E.P.A. agents began to go after suspected Clean Air Act violators through the companies' own accounting books. In any corporation, big capital improvement projects usually leave a trail of documents. Any department in a company that proposes a capital improvement has to justify it to the company's higher-ups, often by way of memos, briefing books, e-mail messages or PowerPoint presentations. In 1997, the E.P.A. started collecting such data, threatening subpoenas if companies didn't comply. ''We got lists of capital projects, then went after the internal justifications for those projects,'' Buckheit said.

After two years of investigation, E.P.A. officials had accumulated a daunting amount of evidence of wrongdoing by the coal-burning power industry. ''This was the most significant noncompliance pattern E.P.A. had ever found,'' Sylvia Lowrance said. ''It was the environmental equivalent of the tobacco litigation.'' Records compiled by the utilities themselves showed, according to former E.P.A. officials, that companies industrywide had systematically broken the law. If that was true, E.P.A. officials noted, the agency might have enough legal leverage to force the industry to install up-to-date pollution controls and achieve something truly historic: not merely incremental cuts in emissions but across-the-board reductions of 50 percent or more. ''On sulfur dioxide alone, we expected to get several million tons per year out of the atmosphere,'' Buckheit said.

Well, they expected that until George Bush took charge, and gave a big glad-hand to all the big polluters. Hey, you religious fundamentalists out there. Isn't there a bunch of stuff in the bible about respecting the planet? How come George Bush only seems to remember the stuff about disrespecting the homos?

P.S. If, in 2004, I buy a new Honda Insight, which, in ideal conditions, gets almost 60mpg city and highway, I can get a $1,500 "Clean Fuel" vehicle tax deduction (off the approximately $21,000 price tag for an automatic transmission). If, however, I keep my 3,000-year-old Mercedes for grocery store trips, and buy a Hummer (reportedly 8-10 mpg), and drive it only to pick up my mail at my mailbox place, I can get a small-business tax credit of up to $100,000. Hmmm, your lungs/my wallet? Your lungs/my wallet? Tough decision. I know...I'll turn to a real spiritual leader. WWGD? (What Would George Do?) Hmmm, that's a toughie!

Posted by aalkon at April 4, 2004 8:06 AM


Yes, Bruce Barcott tells the tale, all right. A distorted tale. As Greg Easterbrook points out on The New Republic Online:
"...but might not it have occurred to some editor somewhere at the Times Magazine that there is nothing in the 13-page article that supports a claim of "undoing" clean air policy? All pollution regulated by the Clean Air Act is declining, has been declining for years, and continues to decline under George W. Bush. That's not mentioned in the 13 pages, since it would more or less spoil the entire premise of the story and the dramatic cover. No factual statement in the Times Magazine piece appears wrong, but the article systematically ignores counter-arguments and counter-facts in order to create a picture that is, overall, inaccurate."

see the entire Easterbrook piece here:

And of course there is the question of why we're burning highly-polluting coal in the first place. Could it be because the enviros have blocked a cleaner source of energy because of their reflexive opposition to all things nuclear? Nah, that couldn't be it.

Posted by: jld at April 8, 2004 1:14 AM

I wonder if the writer of that NY Times mag piece has leftist biases? If so, his reporting about environmental issues (particularly those that involve dreaded Republican politicians!) may be about as reliable as a Neo-Nazi who scrutinizes racial and civil rights issues.

Posted by: Don at April 9, 2004 10:55 PM

Far as I know, Don, Barcott is merely a man who cares about the environment. What biases, SPECIFICALLY, do you see in his article? What information is unscientific and wrong? By the way, because somebody is left or right doesn't mean they can't be an objective journalist. PS Where do you get your "facts" -- from O'Reilly and Hanity?

PPS I'm not a lefty - but I'm a more than a little tired of remarks like yours - from those on the left and the right, intimating bias but without any backup.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 9, 2004 11:18 PM

Amy - here are some specifics regarding Barcott's biases:

1) Biased language:
2) Biased premises:
3) Biased editing:

And here are specifics on his lack of scientific rigor:

4) Missing measurements:
5) Missing criteria:

Posted by: BaySense at April 28, 2004 7:20 AM