Jan. 26 - The Congressional battle over how to reduce air
pollution from power plants began anew on Wednesday with
consideration of the approach most favored by the White
But after three hours of testimony on that initiative,
the Clear Skies Act of 2005, it was obvious that nothing
had diminished the concerns that scuttled an earlier
version of the legislation. Indeed, one co-sponsor
conceded that without major compromises, the new bill was
most likely doomed.
"If everybody's hunkered down, it's the same old story
we've had for the last five or six years," said the
lawmaker, Senator George V. Voinovich, Republican of Ohio.
"Then it's goodbye."
The effort to pass the Clear Skies Act as an amendment
to the Clean Air Act is being led by Senator James M.
Inhofe of Oklahoma, chairman of the Environment and Public
Works Committee, who reintroduced it with Mr. Voinovich on
The measure sets limits on three major pollutants that
affect human health - sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and,
for the first time, mercury - but not on carbon dioxide, a
heat-trapping gas that scientists say contributes to
Mr. Inhofe, mindful of the costly technology needed for
industry to control emissions, has made no secret of his
opposition to carbon dioxide caps, calling global warming
"the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American
But supporters of capping carbon dioxide include at
least six Republicans, and it was a measure of the intense
division between the bill's backers and opponents that Mr.
Voinovich concluded Wednesday's hearing by declaring, "If
climate change is part of this legislation, it's going
The testimony, before the Subcommittee on Clean Air,
Climate Change and Nuclear Safety, which Mr. Voinovich
leads, reflected the usual fault lines on the Clear Skies
Industry groups and government officials spoke in favor
of it, saying it was the best way to protect jobs, local
economies and investments in new power plants while aiming
for the 70 percent reductions in three major pollutants
that the bill promises by 2018.
Environmental groups and state environmental regulators
opposed it, arguing that Congress should use the
opportunity to pass a more muscular bill. They said
alternative approaches would not only set carbon dioxide
caps but also reduce those three other pollutants at a
faster pace and, contrary to the Clear Skies measure,
leave in place parts of the Clean Air Act like "new source
review," which requires operators to add new pollution
controls when plants are upgraded.
Two alternatives to the Clear Skies Act are measures
co-sponsored by Republicans, including Senator Lincoln D.
Chafee of Rhode Island, a member of Mr. Inhofe's
committee. Mr. Chafee's preference for his own bill would
appear to leave the committee evenly split, 9 to 9, on the
Clear Skies legislation, a particular threat to its
The Clear Skies Act is modeled on a program adopted in
1990 to reduce acid rain. In setting limits on the
emission of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury,
it would allow companies whose emissions are lower than
the caps to sell credits to those whose emissions are
above it. It seeks to bring most of the nation's counties
into compliance with air quality standards by 2018;
currently, almost half of all Americans live in areas not
The bills competing with it propose tighter caps in a
shorter period. They also retain new source review, which
supporters of the Clear Skies Act contend threatens plant
owners' economic stability because of expensive
litigation. Since 1999, the government has brought 15
lawsuits against power companies on grounds of
In testimony Wednesday, Ron Harper, chief executive and
general manager of the Basin Electric Power Cooperative,
an electrical generation cooperative in nine states, said
companies like his were thwarted in planning efforts
because of the uncertainties of litigation.
But Conrad G. Schneider of the Clean Air Task Force,
who testified on behalf of four environmental groups, said
the other bills - or even doing nothing - would be
preferable to Clear Skies, which he said would weaken the
Clean Air Act, causing unnecessary death and illness.
"Our first principle is do no harm," Mr. Schneider
said. "Clear Skies guarantees that we will never solve
these problems. It offers only half measures with
pollution reductions that are too little, too late."