Utilities Try to Weasel Out of Pollution Controls - By Supporting Climate Action?


Photo via Mink Baby

With all of the jostling around the plans for energy reform, it can be hard to keep track of what exactly is going on: With the competing pieces of legislation, the Kerry-Lieberman bill on the wane, and mixed signals from the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, energy reform has been in flux so long that the details can seem like a wash. But that's why we've got Dave Roberts -- the always-astute green policy writer noticed that when the dust tentatively settled around a bill that would only target utilities for emissions reductions, those utilities weren't as opposed as one might think. No, some were even open to negotiations on the subject -- so as long as they got to weasel out of other, arguably more important, pollution controls. Roberts explains what's going on over at Grist:

EPA is working on a whole suite of new Clean Air Act regulations. I'm not talking about the much-discussed EPA regulation of greenhouse gases -- I mean tightened standards on traditional ("criteria") air pollutants. The Clean Air Act dictates that EPA regularly revisit pollution standards and update them to reflect the best current science. Needless to say, that wasn't done during the Bush years, so there's a huge backlog of work. Every single criteria pollutant is being revisited. The upshot is, there are tons of new standards either recently released or on their way in the next year or so ...

The utilities see an opening here. Their support will be crucial for getting the energy bill through the Senate. In exchange for their support, they are now asking to be exempted from the EPA's new rules

This, Roberts notes, would be horrendous -- it would finally cross that much-deliberated upon threshold where a climate bill actually does more harm than good.

And the reason is simple -- those stricter Clean Air regs would mean that the coal companies and utilities would have to seriously upgrade and clean up some of the nation's dirtier, older power plants, and probably take some offline. From a strict greenhouse gas emissions perspective, that alone would likely be more beneficial than a seriously weakened utility-only energy bill.

I agree wholeheartedly with Roberts -- the 'utility only' climate bill will already likely pretty crappy. Giving the biggest, dirtiest polluters in the nation a license to dodge regulations in exchange for that is a tradeoff that's simply not worth making. It boils down to this: Roberts is right. If the utilities are granted an exemption in the bill, any and all green groups and environmentalists should come out against the bill.

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