As negotiations on a stripped-down bill to limit global warming pollution from coal-fired power plants reach the final hour, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) is sympathizing with the utility industry’s attempt to suspend Clean Air Act rules on pollutants that kill tens of thousands of Americans a year. At a meeting with environmentalists, Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers “led the call for regulatory relief on a number of existing Clean Air Act programs dealing with sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury, including a new EPA rule proposed last week that deals with interstate pollution.” However, thirty-one environmental and health organizations sent a letter to senators last week calling such rollbacks “simply unacceptable.” Center for American Progress senior fellow Van Jones called it a “literal poison pill.” Today, Lieberman made the ironic claim that polluters “just want a breather” from clean air rules:
That’s a tough one. They frame it in a different way. They just want a breather. And not an eternal pre-emption. These are all topics of negotiation. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing here.
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), Lieberman’s partner in developing a Senate climate bill, last Thursday said there was a little room for negotiation, but opposed any “rollback.” “If we put those requirements into a different form so that we are still adhering to them, that is a different issue and those are two different choices,” Kerry said. “But there is not going to be a rollback of current requirements.”
Other Democrats don’t find this one of the acceptable “topics of negotiation.” “I’d not want to see any weakening of the authority they have today,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) said last week. “It’s been a major tool for cleaning up our air.”
The environmental and public health community — including NAACP and Green For All, Public Citizen and the American Lung Association, the Environmental Defense Fund and Environment America, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Union of Concerned Scientists — are united in their opposition, saying that “delaying the cleanup of these plants threatens the health of millions of Americans.” “I’m sure people throw everything on the table,” said League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski. “But we’ve made it damn clear … that there are no trade-offs of any regulation of any [conventional] pollutants.”
In Friday’s E&E News, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) — who opposes a cap on carbon pollution but supports stronger regulations on other pollutants — criticized Kerry and Lieberman’s negotiations:
You mean to spew more sulfur, nitrogen and mercury, and less carbon? That’s not my idea of progress.