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Unhealthy Air

June 30, 2002

It is already too late for the United States to lead the
world in the fight against global warming. President Bush
saw to that last year, when he abandoned his promise to
make power plants reduce the amount of carbon dioxide they
send into the air.

But if the president won't lead the world, then the
business community, the American people and their elected
representatives in Congress must lead the president.

This month President Bush gave up all pretense of moving
forward in the effort to clean up the oldest and dirtiest
power plants. First he denigrated the climate action report
released by his own administration. That report follows the
National Academy of Sciences and the vast majority of
scientists by stating that global warming is real and poses
a significant threat. Then his administration announced
possibly the biggest rollback of the Clean Air Act in
history, proposing wholesale weakening of the "new source
review" provision that requires old power plants to install
modern pollution controls when they are renovated.

Pollution from power plants causes a variety of problems.
Three in particular are health-threatening: mercury
contamination linked to birth defects, ozone smog that
triggers asthma attacks and fine particulate soot that can
actually lead to death. In addition, these plants emit the
chemicals that cause acid rain and haze in our parks, as
well as large amounts of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

On Thursday, the Senate Environment and Public Works
Committee, of which I am chairman, voted to set strong
limits on the three major health-threatening types of
power-plant pollution and to put a cap, for the first time
in American history, on the release of carbon dioxide from
power plants.

The administration's climate action report projects that
American emissions of carbon dioxide will rise by 43
percent by 2020. Yet its climate policy does little or
nothing to control or reduce this increase.

This is a problem with a solution. The technology to clean
up these plants already exists; some of it has been around
for decades. What has been missing is the political will
either to tell the owners to install this technology or to
create a market to encourage that investment.

America is on the verge of a boom in power-plant
construction, and that gives us a rare opportunity.
Including carbon dioxide reductions in a comprehensive
cleanup plan now is the most efficient and least costly way
to address the threat of global warming. The power industry
realizes that the question on carbon dioxide is not whether
it will be regulated, but when.

Dealing with global warming is too important to leave
solely to Washington. Several states, including New York,
New Hampshire and Massachusetts, are acting on their own to
limit power-plant emissions. But Washington has a crucial
role. The scientific consensus has never been stronger. A
broad and growing coalition of public health and
environmental organizations and several utility companies
agree that we must act now. I hope that at some point
President Bush will follow this lead.

Jim Jeffords, independent of Vermont, is the chairman of
the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.