Friday, April 02, 2004

polluting power plant scandal

This article in the NYT Magazine is long, but worth the read. It’s called “Changing All the Rules.” It’s an account of how the nation’s environmental regulations for power plant emissions have been completely eviscerated by the current administration.

By the sounds of it, the American people’s health is being put at risk in order to save the energy industry a few percent of their yearly profits (and for Republican campaign contributions). No one is under the impression that Bush is environmentally friendly, but I don’t think the extent of these unpopular changes is generally known. Far-reaching changes that even Republicans in Congress had balked at considering (aka the "Clear Skies" program) have been implemented by the Bush administration.

The gist of the article is that many power plants all over the nation had been flouting regulatory laws since the 1970’s, spewing many more hundreds of millions of tons of pollutants into the air than they were allowed to. The perpetually under funded EPA is charged with enforcing those laws, and had finally caught the industry in the act a few years back, giving them the leverage to achieve the goals that our environmental legislation was meant to achieve – to force the plants to upgrade to new equipment that could remove 95% percent (!) of the pollutants from their exhaust. The Bush administration stepped in and made sure it didn’t happen by changing the laws by a version of executive decree. In fact Elliot Spitzer (the popular NY Attorney General, and possibly future governor or senator of NY) and a sizable group of state AG’s are challenging the changes, claiming that they are so far-reaching that only the Congress should be able to pass them. (In case you’re rusty on government: usually Congress makes the laws, and the Executive enforces them, but of course in reality there is a lot of overlap, especially with regulatory bodies like the EPA which are often under the control of administration appointees).

I’m not a big time environmentalist, but the amounts of pollutants these companies spew out really sounds detrimental to both Americans and the planet. What really gets me is how the power plants are unwilling to spend even a small bit of their profits to clean up – even though it sounds like a lot of money to make them more environmentally friendly, these plants are pulling in a billion a year. I smell a massive cigarette company style lawsuit at some point in the future: eventually public opinion and political forces will align against these guys and they'll be made to regret what are essentially crimes against us all.


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