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  Sierra Magazine
  November/December 2003
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Lay of the Land

Here We Go Again | Turning Up The Rhetoric | Raging Hormones | A United Nation | Homo Horribilis | Hazards of Hydration | WWatch | Updates


Keeping tabs on the Bush administration

Fiddling With Lives | For the Record | A Better Way | By the Numbers

Fiddling With Lives

Despite readily available cleanup technology, the country’s 51 biggest, oldest, and dirtiest power plants kill 5,000 to 9,000 people and provoke 80,000 to 120,000 asthma attacks every year. This summer, the Bush administration announced how it was going to tackle the problem: It’s letting polluters off the hook.

In August the EPA issued a rule declaring that industries could modernize their old plants–even if doing so increases emissions–without installing pollution controls, as long as the cost of the project doesn’t exceed 20 percent of the replacement cost of the plant. Before the change, the EPA’s "new source review" regulations required industry to install state-of-the-art pollution controls whenever upgrades increased emissions significantly.

The electric-power industry lobbied for more than two years for the new rule, which it claims brings "clarity" to the process. That clarity, which affects some 17,000 industrial plants nationwide, could increase air-pollution-related deaths by 19,000 a year.

"This makes it patently clear," New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer told the New York Times, "that the Bush administration has meant all along to repeal the Clean Air Act by administrative fiat." At press time, five states, including New York, had vowed to challenge the new rule in federal appeals court. —Reed McManus


For The Record

"We are of the same mind and heart."

—Utah governor Mike Leavitt, George Bush’s pick to head the EPA, on his philosophical ties to the president. "In three terms in office," the Salt Lake Tribune editorialized, Leavitt "has entwined his political life with some of the state’s and nation’s top polluters. [I]f confirmed, Leavitt will preside over an agency that oversees many of the companies that have been his supporters."


A Better Way

Lobsters in the Lead

You can get there from here. While the Bush administration dithers on global warming, Maine has passed the first state law setting specific targets and timelines for greenhouse-gas reductions. New rules direct the state to develop a "climate-change action plan" by next summer, with the goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions to below 1990 levels by 2020. The long-term objective is to cut emissions as much as 80 percent.

Maine’s move is just the latest in a series of increasingly feisty actions by northeastern states. New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island have prepared climate-change mitigation plans, and Vermont’s governor issued an executive order to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from state government buildings.

In June, attorneys general from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maine sued the Bush administration over its climate-change policies, charging that the EPA has failed to list carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. And in July, a coalition of nine northeastern states agreed to impose a cap on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and to develop the country’s first regional greenhouse-gas trading program
—Reed McManus


By The Numbers

• Number of people in the Northeast and Midwest left in the dark during the August blackout, in millions   50

• Amount allocated to upgrade the nation’s electrical grid in a 2001 bill shot down by the White House and congressional Republicans, in millions of dollars   350

• Percentage by which the Arctic’s summer ice cap has shrunk in the past 25 years  7.4

• Percentage by which the Arctic’s ice cap will melt by the end of the century, according to the European Commission   80

• Number of years the Bush administration says it needs to decide whether to take action on global warming   10

• Number of times the nation’s coastal beaches were closed or swimming advisories were issued during 2002   12,000

• Number of summers that have passed since the Bush administration promised to tighten regulations on sewer systems in order to protect coastal areas  3

For more "W.Watch," visit www.sierraclub.org/wwatch/.

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