‘Dirty Bomb’ Decision On Behalf Of King Coal

Our guest blogger is Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.

This morning, a federal appeals court struck down key elements of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency clean-air rule designed to make sweeping reductions in air pollution from coal-fired electric power plants in the Eastern half of the nation. The suit brought on behalf of the coal-burning industry has crippled the signature air pollution control effort by the Bush Administration. It’s the legal equivalent of a dirty bomb: literally tens of thousands of Americans could see their lives cut short by dirty air.

This decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to vacate the Clean Air Interstate Rule is without a doubt the worst news of the year when it comes to air pollution. It is potentially disastrous news for public health. In the words of Conrad Schneider, advocacy director of the Clean Air Task Force, “This decision will leave tens of millions of Americans exposed to dirty air. It will mean avoidable death and disease.”

The Bush administration needs to do more than file the obvious legal appeal: it needs to come up with a fix that is legally foolproof. If the Bush administration isn’t up to the task, then Congress must step in and fix this mess — the bipartisan legislation introduced by Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) is one obvious vehicle.

The villain in this case is the coal-burning electric power industry. No wonder some are starting to call Duke Chairman and CEO Jim Rogers the Duke Dirt Devil. Rogers — supposedly a “green” leader — led an industry attack because he wanted to save a little money rather than clean up.

When it announced the rules in March 2005, the EPA itself projected that they would prevent 17,000 premature deaths a year. The vast majority of those avoided deaths would happen because of reductions in electric power emissions of sulfur dioxide, which chemically convert to deadly fine-particle soot. To quote from then-acting EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, the rule “will result in the largest pollution reductions and health benefits of any air rule in more than a decade.” So you can see what we are losing.