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Tuesday, August 26, 2003 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | NEXT: Last-Ditch Lawsuit Filed to Prevent Removal of Ten...
2003-08-26

New Bush Administration Rule Exempts Thousands of Industrial Plants and Refineries from Part of Clean Air Act

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The exemption translates into huge savings for industrial plants, even if they increase the amounts of pollutants they emit. Democracy Now! hosts a debate between the Electrical Reliability Coordinating Council’s Scott Segal and the Natural Resource Defense Council’s John Walke. [Includes transcript]

Click here to read to full transcript A new regulation supported by the Bush administration exempts thousands of industrial plants and refineries from part of the Clean Air Act.

The Bush administration settled on the rule after more than two years of internal deliberation and intense pressure from the industry.

The new rule constitutes a sweeping and cost-saving victory for industrial plants. It allows older power plants, oil refineries and industrial units to renovate and upgrade their equipment without installing air pollution controls. Plants can engage in routine maintenance without having to install cleaner technologies.

According to The New York Times, the exemption translates into billions of dollars in savings for industrial plants, even if they increase the amounts of pollutants they emit.

Activists from the Clean Air Task Force predict that the enforcement of these changes will yield greater pollution and negative health effects including 20, 000 additional premature births, 400,000 additional asthma attacks and 12,000 additional cases of chronic bronchitis.

Over 300 non-profit environmental and public health organizations from 47 different states are expressing concern over the proposed changes.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: Here on Democracy Now!, the war and peace report. New regulation that is being promulgated by the bush administration exempts thousands of industrial plants and refineries from the clean air act. The bush administration settled on the rule after more than two years of internal deliberation and intense pressure from the industry. A new rule constitutes a sweeping and cost saving victory for industrial plants that allows older power plants, oil refineries and industrial units to renovate and upgrade their equipment without installing air pollution controls. Plants can engage in routine maintenance without having to install cleaner technology. The exemption translates into billions of dollars in savings for industrial plants, even if they increase the amount of pollutants they emit. Activists from the clean air task force predict the enforcement of these changes will yield greater pollution and negative health effects including 20,000 additional premature births, 400,000 additional asthma attacks and 12,000 additional cases of chronic bronchitis. Over 300 nonprofit, environmental and public health organizations from 47 different states are expressing concern over the proposed changes.

To debate this issue, we’re joined by the Scott Segal, of the Electrical Reliability Coordinating Council, which represents utilities in this country. And John Walke, director of Natural Resources Defense Council. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Why don’t we begin with John Walke. What is your problem with this exemption?

JOHN WALKE: Well, the Bush administration is about to eliminate clean air protections that would be the worst pollution and enforcement scandal ever to rock E.P.A. These protections apply to over 17,000 industrial polluters around the country. And as we saw in the previous segment, pollution, fraud and deception have now become weekly events at E.P.A. This rule has no defensible basis under the law for purposes of air quality protection and it’s really just a give away to big polluters like those represented by Mr. Segal.

AMY GOODMAN: Scott, your response?

SCOTT SEGAL: Well, as always, a nice measure discussion of the issue, first of all, if there’s any fraud that goes on in this country about environmental protection, it has to do with the fact that when environmental programs become too inflexible they can actually discourage pollution prevention activities, increases in energy efficiency which are the best way to prevent pollution. And can discourage reliability of the electric power grid which I think the folks of the east coast only too recently got a taste of.

Bottom line is that air quality in the United States is getting much cleaner and these are trends that date back to even a time when John was uncomfortable with the way the N.S.R. program was being enforced, before the great news source review 1999 enforcement initiative. The bottom line is ha there is ample justification on environmental grounds to make this program more flexible and more rationale and that’s why attorney’s general organizations, that’s why state organizations, that’s why Harvard university experts, experts from resources for the future, on down the list. The national association of African American chambers of commerce, on down the list, have supported pragmatic reform of the new program.

That’s what we’re getting here, results orientation. And all the scare tactic and scare rhetoric will not change the fact that improved efficiency is the best way to prevent pollution in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: So you’re getting what you want.

SCOTT SEGAL: Yes. You should want, too.

AMY GOODMAN: John, your response.

JOHN WALKE: Well, let me just get couple things right out there up front. Not a single one of the organizations that Scott just mentioned has supported these rollbacks of the clean air act, he knows it. Let’s just address another flat out deception head on, the blackout of several weeks ago are not linked in one way at all to these clean air rules. Scott well knows that the problems have been linked to transmission lines and the grid itself, which are not regulated by this clean air program. So this is just deception and misleading diversion on his part.

The truth is, that the Bush administration is adopting a combination of an Enron accounting fraud scheme to make cost industry the sole criterion to determine how much pollution they can create. My organization has analyzed this rule. We obtained a leaked copy of the rule as reported in the New York Times. And it would allow hundreds of thousands of tons of illegal pollution from just several plants that we looked at. And I believe without a doubt millions of tons of illegal pollution nationwide.

The thing to understand about this program as you listen to Scott is, it only applies when polluters increase their pollution. There is only the need for the loophole the Bush administration is adopting when they increase their pollution. If they are decreasing their pollution as Scott has argued, they will not be covered by this program. So whenever you hear him use the terms, efficiency and reliability and all other things that sound nice, he is using those terms as code for pollution increases, that is what the Bush administration is allowing his clients to avoid cleaning up.

SCOTT SEGAL: I’ve got to address that fundamental misconception. First of all one person’s increase is another person’s decrease. John’s group is becoming incredibly—

JOHN WALKE: Did you just say that, Scott?

SCOTT SEGAL: The filing litigation which does nothing but delay improvements in pollution prevention projects to describe what most Americans would hold to be a decrease in emissions and increase in efficiency, as an increase they use the archana and inflexibility of the current rules as camouflage to hide behind. Word on the reliability of the electrical system: there’s a reason why many years before the blackout occurred we named our organization the Electrical Reliability Coordinating Council.

John’s rather simplistic view of the electric system would have you believe that transmission systems and generation systems fit neat little boxes. We know that is not true. The people of New York know that is not true. When a transmission system goes down, the first thing that happens is between 20 and 40 generation systems on the eastern interconnect go down. You have to have those facilities maintained and in tiptop condition before you can bring them easily back up online. We don’t know what caused this cascading blackouts as a result it’s foolish in the extreme to discourage the electric power industry from engaging in routine maintenance activities.

John knows that. And that’s why I believe the environmental organizations have been relatively silent after the blackout. This is a very serious problem. We estimated alone that efficiency improvements of only 2 to 4% in the industry would be the equivalent of building 20 to 40 new power plants of 300 megawatts apiece with no new emissions. That’s what hangs in the balance with respect to efficiency. It is an important element that keeps the entire system reliable.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to John Walke, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Scott Segal, who represents utilities in this country, the Electrical Reliability Coordinating Council. So, the exemption has been pushed through by the Bush administration. What can you do about it, John Walke, as an organization that is opposed to it?

JOHN WALKE: Well, the Bush administration is trying to sneak this out as early as tomorrow while Congress is out of town and America is on vacation, in order to save their nominee to head the E.P.A., whose confirmations hearing will be coming up next week from having to deal with this. If they were proud of this, why would they be trying to jam it out while Congress is out of town and before their new person takes over a mere few months after they adopted this?

SCOTT SEGAL: After two years?

JOHN WALKE: They know it is a dirty air rule. The reason that they do is because it is completely illegal. My organization N.R.D.C. joined by numerous other attorney’s general from states including New York, will be filing a lawsuit to block this rule. It is flagrantly illegal and it is nothing more than polluter pay off to big coal fired power plants who cause tens of thousands of deaths across this country every year.

SCOTT SEGAL: Well, as you reported at the outset this even just this part of this rule has been actively under consideration for two years. Placed in a broader context, the form of the program has been underway since the earliest days of the Clinton administration. To say that somehow releasing the rule in a timely fashion is somehow dishonest is ridiculous. In fact this rule is long overdue.

It verges on libel to say the new head of the E.P.A. would be anything but comfortable with this rule and frankly when they appointed the acting administrator of the E.P.A., the White House said to her, do not be a caretaker, get things done, and that’s exactly what she’s done in this case. This rule is released today or released tomorrow perhaps in order to be impactful on the fall maintenance schedule for most facilities.

If you want to make these facilities enhance pollution prevention and make for safer work environments, which is why all the major manufacturing unions also support the N.S.R. program, you must proceed forward and release these in a timely fashion, that’s what we’re asking for.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask Scott Segal, director of the Electrical Reliability Coordinating Council, given the latest news, the report of the Environmental Protection Agency that says the White House pressured them to lie about the environment in New York after 9/11, why should people have faith now that the Bush administration is working in the health interests of the American people when it comes to clean air?

SCOTT SEGAL: This rule is the product of over eight public hearings, hundreds of thousands of rule making comments filed on the record, the input of major organizations, everything from organized labor to indeed business organizations, environmental organizations like John’s, individual citizens, state level organizations and there’s been a massive amount, in fact abundance of process associated with this rule.

I don’t know a lot about the 9/11 report that came from E.P.A.. I can only assume that they were under some unique and strict burdens in terms of time and a lot of information to process under pretty catastrophic conditions. In this case we’ve had years and years of process, every possible and imaginable way of input.

John has highlighted that the input will continue even after the rules are final of the filing of yet another lawsuit, please do recall that lawsuits like this that delay implementation of rules, I don’t think particularly give a lot of predictability to industry. Industry that particularly eastern interconnect relies upon for the reliable sources for electricity.

JOHN WALKE: I just got to say, this is Orwellian spin, you heard Scott say pollution increase increases a pollution decrease. The 100,000 thousand comments he’s mentioned

SCOTT SEGAL: No, that’s N.R.D.C.’s comment —

JOHN WALKE: … were all opposed to these rules. I have documents demonstrating White House interference with E.P.A.'s rule in a way that was designed to make it dirtier and way that was designed to make it unlawful. The same polluter deception is occurring here as occurred in the September 11th report. We have an E.P.A. now under the Bush administration that stands for every polluter's accomplice, is working contrary to the public health interest of the American public. There is no defensible air quality reason for this rule. If you will listen carefully, Scott has not denied because he cannot deny that this rule will increase pollution. He has talked about everything on this conversation except pollution increases, which by definition will result from this rule.

SCOTT SEGAL: I have denied that. Our argument is that it increases the efficiency of these facilities which is the best way to prevent pollution…

AMY GOODMAN: On that note we’ll have to leave it there. Scott Segal, director of the Electrical Reliability Coordinating Council and John Walke, who is director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. You are listening to Democracy Now!


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