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'Dirty 30' want EPA air pollution rule repealed
June 14th, 2012
07:15 AM ET

'Dirty 30' want EPA air pollution rule repealed

Lines are being drawn on Capitol Hill over an EPA rule to reduce air pollution from the nation's power plants.

Last year the Environmental Protection Agency approved the controversial Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (or MATS; also known as MACT), the country's first national protections rule designed to limit the amount of heavy metals like mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and other toxic air pollutants released by power plants that burn coal and oil - toxins many suspect cause cancer and other health problems.

The new standards set work practices that include an annual performance test program for new and existing electric generating units.  This would include an inspection, adjustments, maintenance and repairs.

"Utility MACT is specifically designed to kill coal as well as all the good paying jobs that come with it," Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) said on the Senate floor Tuesday. "The vote on my resolution will likely be the one and only opportunity to stop President Obama's war on coal - this is the one chance for my colleagues to show their constituents who they really stand with."

And Inhofe says 29 others have joined his petition to repeal those protections. The number is significant because Inhofe's Senate Joint Resolution 37 could nullify the EPA rule under a little used law called the Congressional Review Act.  With a CRA, a vote in committee is not required if 30 senators have signed on to support it.

The legislation can be discharged from committee and sent straight to the Senate floor for a vote. But that's not all. If passed, under CRA, the EPA would be prohibited from adopting substantially similar clean air standards in the future.

And that's what worries John Walke, Clean Air Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Walke says the whole process has been shrouded in secrecy, that Inhofe has refused to name the 29 senators - whom Walke calls the "Dirty 30" - supporting his petition. Concerned, Walke sent a letter to Inhofe asking him to disclose their names and calling for transparency and openness.

"The EPA has issued generationally important health safe guards that will save tens of thousands of lives and avoid hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks by reducing toxic air pollution from power plants that burn coal and oil," Walke said. "Those safeguards are over a decade overdue already yet they are facing fierce political attack from conservatives in congress that are trying to eliminate those safeguards and delay any weaker replacements indefinitely."

"The Senate will vote in the next 2 weeks on a bill by Sen. Inhofe that will go even further by not only nullifying these health safeguards but also prohibiting EPA from adopting any similar safeguards to reduce this dangerous air pollution. This legislative weapon is the nuclear weapon of congress with the radioactive spillover effect that poisons the landscape for officials trying to follow the law to protect the American people."

But Matt Dempsey, Communications Director for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and a member of Inhofe's staff told CNN the senator's bill has widespread bipartisan support. "We've got well over 30 Senators in this body that are committed to ending President Obama's war on coal. We have support from republicans, democrats, business groups and labor units from all across the country," he said. "Senator Inhofe was clear in his speech while the NRDC is using scare tactics, this resolution would allow the EPA to go back to the drawing board and write a regulation that balances environment needs with a growing economy."

The American Lung Association is critical of Inhofe's strategy.

"We strongly oppose Senator Inhofe's extreme resolution that would permanently block EPA's life saving mercy and air toxic standards," said Paul Billings, vice president \with the American Lung Association. "The Clean Air Act required EPA address toxic air pollution from power plants in 1990. It has taken over 20 years to get to this point where power plants must clean up this pollution. These standards will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths each year and protect millions from the consequences of toxic air pollution including mercury which damages children's neurological development and intelligence."

According to the EPA, power plants are the biggest source of toxic releases into the air, including 50% of mercury emissions and 77% of acid gas emissions. When that mercury reaches water it changes into a highly toxic form of methylmercury. This can build up in fish, and people are exposed by eating that contaminated fish. The agency says exposure to methylmercury is dangerous for pregnant women, unborn babies and young children.

Existing plants will have 4 years to comply with MATS. The EPA estimates about 1,400 units will be affected - 1,100 coal-fired units and 300 oil fired units at approximately 600 power plants. They say many of these plants already meet some part of the standards.

But many in the industry share Inhofe's concerns about MATS and support his efforts to repeal the rule.

"The MATS rule and the very short timelines associated with compliance will force the premature retirement of many coal-fueled generating facilities and potentially jeopardize electricity reliability," said Melissa McHenry, a senior manager at American Electric Power in Columbus, Ohio. "The MATS rule would result in dramatic and irreversible changes to the nation’s electric sector leading to higher electricity costs, killing jobs and creating a ripple effect through the American economy."

Offering an alternative to the Inhofe resolution, Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Mark Pryor (D-AR) are expected to unveil a bill that would keep MACT intact, but extend the effect date out six years from 2015 to 2018. For Alexander, the issue is personal.

"This rule requires utilities in other states to install the same pollution controls that TVA already is installing on its coal-fired power plants. TVA alone can't clean up our air," Alexander said. "Tennessee is bordered by more states than any other state. We are surrounded by our neighbors' smokestacks."

But Inhofe says the Alexander-Pryor bill is just a "cover vote" and will likely never actually be voted on.

"The senators who want to kill coal by opposing SRJ 37 will put their names on the Alexander-Pryor bill as cosponsors to make it look like they are saving coal when in reality this bill kills coal but just puts if off for six years. The time is now to put a stop on Obama's war on coal."


soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. bob

    Well, if any legislation helps anyone BUT corporations, Republicans want to kill it. It's sad.

    June 14, 2012 at 09:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • James

      CNN wants to kill it like when they edited out Jesse Ventura's promotion of Presidential candidate Gary Johnson in their CNN interview.

      June 15, 2012 at 18:07 | Report abuse |
  2. md22mdrx

    We need a MAJOR war on coal. It's the most destructive and dangerous source of energy we have .... from the killing of our wildlife, to the poisoning of our water supply, to the toxic particles in the air .... there is no phase that coal does NOT destroy.

    June 14, 2012 at 09:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rip

      Exactly. Coal has been killing those who mine it for years. It puts pollution in our atmosphere. Yet Republicans, who, by their nature as conservatives, don't want to change, want to keep pumping this crap out into our lungs. We're in the 21st Century, aren't we? We can replace "dirty coal" with something else.

      Typical Republicans. They don't care about the environment or the health of people. They care about corporations and the almighty Dollar.

      June 14, 2012 at 12:07 | Report abuse |
    • JIm

      We can limit coal plants by increasing solar and wind power generation, along with responsible natural gas development. With an intelligent approach to our energy future, we can literally be the new Saudi Arabia of the Western Hemisphere. In some states, renewable sources are generating up to 30% of consumer electric supply, so if we keep on track, we can get it up to the 40%-50% ranges, and combined with the vast ENG resources in the US, our country will be awash in clean energy that also will create a huge economic landslide for our country.

      June 14, 2012 at 13:42 | Report abuse |
    • Trent

      I 100% agree. Inhofe is a fool

      June 14, 2012 at 14:49 | Report abuse |
  3. Bock

    Where is the famous Clean Coal that those industrials were promoting on TV, not so long ago ?
    Tip: not here, that's for sure... TV ads and senators are cheaper than profits done on public health

    June 14, 2012 at 09:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bobden

      You got it. There is NO SUCH THING as clean coal. We will continue to use dirty coal, but we must have controls to limit the crap that is put into our air. Some want us to eliminate regulation so that the owners of the coal mines and of the power plants can buy anotther mansion, or another small country. NO.

      June 14, 2012 at 12:58 | Report abuse |
  4. Teresa Binstock

    How many of the Dirty 30 US Senators also receive money from Big Pharma, ie, from corporations whose revenues are enhanced by pollution-associated illnesses?

    June 14, 2012 at 09:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tom Gillilan

      Some real dirty dogs are in charge of air quality in the USA. Trusting your local air board to provide healthy breathing air is like trusting a fox to guard the chickens, but much worse.

      June 14, 2012 at 16:02 | Report abuse |
  5. Ehines

    Imagine all the good paying jobs that could come from the overhaul of our current energy addiction! Why can no one in Washington have the foresight that fossil fuels are vanishing fassssttt and these types of legislation not only give us more time to react, but save lives and the environment. If you gave a coal work the option to do his job in regards to clean energy, heck what do I know, wouldn't he be more than happy to do it? All this greed and ignorance is gonna realllllly kill some jobs and the planet. Feh....

    June 14, 2012 at 10:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Jason

    "Utility MACT is specifically designed to kill coal as well as all the good paying jobs that come with it," good lord, how dramatic. Nothing is going to kill coal. We are going to burn every last grain of it regardless of pollution controls. I guess these cats want our air to look like China.

    June 14, 2012 at 10:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Gilbert EngageAmerica

    The idea of stopping all regulations regarding air standards is a bit out of control. However One can see why people are so up in arms about regulations such as Utility MACT. While they are designed to protect us, regulations like these often force businesses to either slash jobs to afford the compliance costs or shut down all together. On top of that these regulations that we put in place are more reactionary than proactive, so when they are implemented, there's not a whole lot of chance to revise or improve them especially since the standards are capricious at best (http://bit.ly/zIfsUf). We need a better way to balance regulation with our economic recovery so that we actually have the hope of making some kind of progress.

    June 14, 2012 at 10:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Matt

      Actually, that rarely if ever happens. The need to keep the plants open will force the owners to look for new ways to clean emissions, which will require them to hire contractors to provide the solution, which is a source of jobs, and then they may have to add long term employees to the payroll to run/monitor equipment, which is MORE jobs than they had before. Keep this in mind, it takes fewer people and less overhead to leave things the way they are than it does to add more jobs. Most utilities that produce power have their rate of return set by a local utilities commission and as such get a guaranteed profit. The cost to comply with laws such as this get built into that rate structure, so all they have to do is not screw up thier promised profit, and no one goes out of business.

      June 14, 2012 at 18:32 | Report abuse |
  8. ajrj

    Why won't these folks (and those who support them by voting for them) realize that instead of losing jobs we are creating jobs by requiring these plants to retrofit their facilities to bring them into compliance. What they are really saying is you are cutting into profits and we value profits over the health of our populace.

    June 14, 2012 at 10:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. William

    Coal is the most abundant energy fuel we have in the this country. I can't remember the figures, but at one time there was enough coal to fuel this country for close to a century. It's no wonder that legislation wants to protect it, but it's dirtiness cannot be avoided without major emission control measures. Coal is still really cheap when it comes to the cost of the fuel itself and construction of a power plant that uses it, especially compared to nuclear or hydroelectric, which can cost billions and decades to construct. Coal still has a place due to cost, but emissions regulations are a must, and it will never be as clean as natural gas, which is plentiful, but not to the extent that coal is.

    June 14, 2012 at 10:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • irunner

      Natural Gas is as abundant as coal in North America and will replace coal as the primary energy source for the next 100 years. It can also be used in internal combustion engines, replacing gasoline. Why not pursue this cleaner energy source?

      June 14, 2012 at 11:31 | Report abuse |
  10. Tom Gillilan

    IF YOU TRAVEL TO LOS ANGELES BRING YOUR OWN AIR AND A GAS MASK

    WOOD AND CHARCOAL SMOKE POLLUTION EVERYWHERE

    June 14, 2012 at 11:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • irunner

      The primary source of pollution (particulates and ozone) in the LA basin is from cars and trucks and NOT coal or wood sources.

      June 14, 2012 at 11:33 | Report abuse |
    • Tom Gillilan

      Reply to irunner
      The primary source are trucks and cars. Never said it wasn't.

      Wood, charcoal, and restaurant smoke pollution is a strong second, and is a primary first source for those unfortunate enough to live downwind from one of these smoke sources. In fact, wood and charcoal smoke pollution is now the most TOXIC source of air pollution in the LA basin. With hundreds of thousands of people who now use wood and charcoal as their primary method of cooking here in LA, if you value your health you will bring your own air and a gas mask when you visit LA.

      June 14, 2012 at 15:53 | Report abuse |
    • OvernOut

      We drove through Death Valley in the heat of the late afternoon, in the middle of summer one year. Nothing for miles around, only two other vehicles on that road with us that day. Big plume of smog clearly visible in the sky, could see it trailing for miles. It was mostly gold in color (nitrogen oxides will cause that). Quite depressing.

      June 14, 2012 at 21:28 | Report abuse |
  11. irunner

    "Obama's war on coal"? What will they come with next? This guy has been blamed for more atrocities than Hitler. Sadly, most Americans are too ignorant to know the difference between truth and politics.

    June 14, 2012 at 11:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • WhatNow

      irunner...Boy is that the truth! This is the most common form of attack. You throw out the idea that jobs will either be created or destroyed based on regulations and stir up the voters who don't know the difference. Somehow, people keep forgetting that regulations are about their safety and well-being.

      June 14, 2012 at 12:10 | Report abuse |
    • Independent Colorado

      The truth is obama said he is waging a war on fossil fuel. He is also using politics to force his agenda. Funny you say that though.. He said "I wont stop you from opening up a coal power plant.. I'll just make it so you can't afford to it open" (not exact quote, but close)

      June 14, 2012 at 14:35 | Report abuse |
  12. paintersix

    there are alot of jobs supported by the coal industry....be careful what you wish for.

    June 14, 2012 at 13:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bobden

      But do those jobs count if they don't pay enough to buy anything except at the company store?

      How many of the coal industry workers (not owners/executives) die young.

      June 14, 2012 at 18:08 | Report abuse |
  13. Rebecca

    I wish that politicians would just own it when they've been bought. I'd have a hell of a lot more respect for them.

    June 14, 2012 at 14:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Joe

    A 3rd generation miner in West Virginia isn't allowed to make $40K/year, but both prez candidates continue endless wars enriching more influential CEOs. I guess the richer company getting half their parts from overseas can bribe the politicians better. The right comprimize for the coal and environmentalists is to just phase in regulations very gradually.
    A 10% tax on coal subdizing solar would be good. A 40% tax on carbon going to a NYSE carbon credit stock exchange won't help us.

    June 14, 2012 at 21:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. jerems

    This will just drive up energy prices.

    June 15, 2012 at 02:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Eric

    What a huge joke. Not even doing the research about the scientific facts listed in the article, it's obvious burning coal is an environmental and health issue. I only have an MBA, but I'm pretty sure the idea of the business is to develop a forward-looking sustainable strategy. What exactly is sustainable about burning coal like we're at the start of the industrial revolution? So simple-minded to think Americans would benefit more from cheap coal energy (and cheap mass produced food) than they are going to eventually spend on health care and environmental costs trying to recover from the issues coal causes. Sure, it "protects" jobs, but who really wants those jobs protected? Why can't the employees/employers develop a plan to switch to clean renewable energy sources? Oh that's right...probably because investors are too busy focusing on short term losses rather than long-term gains. "Investors" also includes the customers buying the energy too that would complain about marginally higher energy prices and bills in order for companies to afford making the switch for them.

    June 15, 2012 at 16:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. gquSg3g

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    August 7, 2013 at 02:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Lukas

    I still believe that there is no better example than my city, it managed to reduce air pollution twice in few years, look through the data- Kur Gyvenu and I believe that we managed to reach it only working together. Every city may follow us, and may care about environment as we care!

    January 7, 2014 at 09:54 | Report abuse | Reply

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