December 9, 2008

Fun with Regulations
You know you've crossed a line when US Circuit Court judges repeatedly compare your legal logic to something out of Alice in Wonderland. But as an article in yesterday's Philly Inquirer details, that's exactly how things go down in court with the Bush EPA. As we watch the Bushies in their final throes of environmental degradation, it's worth our reviewing the EPA's recent history. Boy, were they bad - though it was no accident. From attempting to gut New Source Review (which was apparently the reason Bush's first EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman quit) to setting a mercury limit so high that no power plant would actually have to reduce its emissions, these evildoers let no bad deed go undone.

The highlight, though, has to be their efforts to limit sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution from power plants. The cap-and-trade system that the Bush EPA came up would have at least made some reductions, however meager. Power companies were indeed investing in billion dollar scrubbers to comply so it was by no means a total smoke and mirrors system. But the implementation of the rules was so flawed as to be irreparable - the court felt compelled to junk the whole system. As a result, "the court took a big anti-pollution rule off the books - the one that the EPA believed could prevent thousands of premature deaths annually." In other words, when they weren't derelict in their duties, they were incompetent.

It will take years to rewrite the regulations (although Congress could act sooner to reinstate the system in some form). So now coal plants, like the Brunner Island plant which dates from the 1960s and sits outside of Harrisburg, no longer have the incentive to finish their scrubber systems. What looked to be a competitive advantage when the companies were facing emissions limits is now perceived by them to be a disadvantage. And of course, the power companies all lost tens of millions of dollars each when the bottom fell out of the emissions trading market after the court ruling. Meanwhile:
Twelve thousand tons of coal arrive by railcar daily at the... Brunner Island plant, and, until the scrubber goes online, it will continue to spew sulfur dioxide and particulate matter into the air. The pollution wafts from a 600-foot-high smokestack and drifts east toward Philadelphia.
Now that's a legacy to be proud of. If you're an industry lackey, that is. Can we just declare tomorrow to be January 20th, 2009 and get this over with?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

All of what you said, and on top of that, NO REGULATION of CO2 from those very coal plants. Even after the Supreme Court ruling for the EPA.

It is not an exaggeration to claim that these amount to criminal acts.

At the same time, remember that there have been recent whistle blowers at the EPA. There are some good people on the inside who were hoping to change it from within. Here is a recent CNN video clip on that.

This also reminds us of Dick Cheney's direct involvement in this. His name doesn't get mentioned enough around environment policy.

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