Senators Hope to Clear The Air, Parks Should Benefit
Boy, Dubya's gotta hate this.
Five U.S. senators -- three of whom are Republicans -- are daring to upstage the Bush administration when it comes to cleaning the nation's air. Of course, whether Senators Tom Carper of Delaware, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Dianne Feinstein of California can get the rest of Congress to support their bid remains to be seen.
What the five hope to do with their Clean Air Planning Act of 2006 (CAPA) is force significant reductions in sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide, and mercury emissions from the nation's coal-fired power plants by the year 2015.
If they succeed, among the beneficiaries will be America's national parks, many of which currently are struggling with hazy views thanks to air pollution.
Solidly behind this legislation is the National Parks Conservation Association, which sees it as much more substantial than the president's own "Clear Skies" measure. Under Clear Skies, some existing clean air protections would actually be scrapped.
Under the proposed legislation, sulfur dioxide emissions, which currently are capped at 11 million tons per year, would be capped at 4.5 million tons in 2010 and 2 million tons in 2015. Nitrogen oxides would go from the current cap of 5 million tons per year to 1.7 million tons. CAPA also prohibits the trading of mercury emissions, something current EPA rules allow, and while carbon dioxide emissions currently are not capped, this legislation proposes to reduce them to 2001 levels by 2015.
Some background: Roughly three-quarters of all power plant boilers operating in the United States today are more than 30 years old and aren't outfitted with the latest pollution control technology. They also are responsible for about 99 percent of the sulfur dioxide, 98 percent of the nitrogen oxides, and 91 percent of carbon dioxide emissions coming from all U.S. power plants.
Thanks to air pollution, national park viewsheds aren't what they once were. At Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains national parks, on bad days air pollution cuts the visibility from as much as 70 miles to barely 15 miles. Problems also exist at Mesa Verde, Grand Canyon, Big Bend and Sequoia national parks to name just a few.
"Technologies are readily available that allow these plants to operate much more cleanly," NPCA President Tom Kiernan said in a letter of support to Sens. Carper and Alexander. "The Clean Air Planning Act would employ flexible market mechanisms and adequate lead-time so these plants can affordably apply the technologies that will help clean our air."
You can learn more about the legislation here.