Our guest blogger is Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.
It may seem like a sideshow to the congressional battle over drilling, but tens of thousands of people may see their lives cut short by air pollution – and they have Joe Barton (R-TX) to thank.
This week, Rep. Barton (given the moniker “Smokey Joe” by the Dallas Morning News for his efforts on behalf of polluters) blocked efforts in Congress to advance a compromise plan to reduce power plant emissions. The compromise, put together by Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) and Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) and Rick Boucher (D-VA), was designed to codify the first phase of the Bush EPA interstate air pollution rule (the so-called “clean air interstate rule” or CAIR) struck down by a federal court.
The Carper-Dingell-Boucher plan also would have taken away a “coal bonus” that the Bush administration inserted into the rule to reward coal-burning companies such as Southern Company. (Among other things, this would have had the effect of reducing costs to Texas electricity consumers compared to the original CAIR plan.) The plan was also designed to trigger more aggressive long-term pollution reductions than contained in the original Bush plan. (The Bush administration spent considerable energy in recent weeks trying to sidetrack this more aggressive long-term strategy.)
Southern Company has vigorously opposed the Carper-Dingell-Boucher initiative. It did not want to lose that coal bonus, and has the power to take action. The head of Southern Company is also chair of the influential power industry lobby, the Edison Electric Institute). The man who crafted the original CAIR rule while at the EPA, Jeffrey Holmstead, is now a top lobbyist for Southern Company at Rudy Giuliani’s lobbying firm.
And EEI is a major contributor to Barton, the Texas Republican who is the “ranking member” of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. So is the coal lobbying front group, the National Mining Association. In fact, Barton has received over a million dollars in campaign contributions from electric utilities.
Because there are only a few working days left in Congress, Dingell and Boucher hoped to proceed under a streamlined process that required Barton’s cooperation.
But Barton said no deal. As reported by E&E News, Barton said he wanted to spend time in the next Congress “thoroughly reviewing not only the CAIR regulations, but the entire Clean Air Act.”
So there you have it. Barton, who in the past has introduced legislation to weaken the Clean Air Act, now is holding the CAIR fix hostage. He wants another crack at weakening the Clean Air Act. The result, according to the EPA, will be thousands of premature deaths, as well as heart attacks, emergency room visits and lost work days. This, of course, will include significant public health damage in Barton’s own state — and will make it harder for Texas and other states to meet national clean air standards.