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Clear Skies Builds on Progress

Over the past 30 years, total U.S. emissions of the six principal air pollutants have decreased by more than 50 percent, while our gross domestic product has increased by more than 175 percent. That is excellent progress, but more can be done. While there are currently several pieces of multipollutant legislation before Congress aimed at continuing this environmental progress, only one strikes the appropriate balance — the president’s Clear Skies Initiative, which will substantially improve air quality throughout the country, provide energy security and encourage economic growth.

In January, Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and I introduced

S. 131, the Clear Skies Act of 2005. The bill reduces emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and — for the first time — mercury from power plants by 70 percent by 2016 through expansion of the successful Acid Rain Program. This is the most aggressive presidential initiative in history to cut power plant emissions.

Attempting to negotiate a compromise on President Bush’s Clear Skies legislation, Sen. Voinovich and I agreed to postpone scheduled committee markups of the bill three times in a good-faith effort. On Feb. 16, we circulated a managers’ amendment that offered major changes to address concerns raised by the opposition and stakeholders.

On March 2, we amended the package further. The managers’ amendment included tightening the Phase II deadlines for all three pollutants to 2016 (from 2018), creating an Environmental Protection Agency regulatory program to eliminate the risk of mercury “hot spots,” addressing carbon in a credible way by creating a pool of allowances worth more than $650 million to promote IGCC technology, and tightening numerous provisions to further reduce pollution, increase monitoring and eliminate potential loopholes.

Although we made significant changes to the original legislation, we never received a single counterproposal from the opponents of the legislation and are still waiting to receive one.

In contrast to other multipollutant legislation, Clear Skies provides unprecedented emissions reductions nationwide without significantly increasing electricity prices for Americans. Other multipollutant proposals would drive manufacturing out of the country by diverting the natural gas the sector relies on to make products into electric generation. As one of my colleagues quipped, “that is like burning antique furniture as the wood for your fireplace.” Those other bills do this because they are not only poorly designed, but also regulate carbon dioxide. Unlike NOx, SO2 and mercury, however, CO2 is not a pollutant; plants “breathe” it, and we all exhale it countless times each day. For this reason, it should not be part of a multipollutant bill. Those who want to regulate CO2 emissions want to do so because they believe humans are changing our climate — but that claim remains extremely controversial.

The science of climate change involves a great diversity of opinion.

Richard Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of 11 scientists who prepared the National Academy of Sciences’ 2001 study on climate change, has written that there were a wide variety of views to be presented and “that the full report did [present those views], making it clear that there is no consensus, unanimous or otherwise, about long-term climate change and what causes it.”

A large and growing list of credible scientists disagree with the “popular science” of climate change. In fact, more than 17,000 scientists — two-thirds of whom hold advanced degrees — have signed the Oregon Petition, which urges the U.S. government to reject the Kyoto Protocol and similar proposals on the grounds that “the proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind.”

To regulate CO2 at this time would be premature and unwise. Numerous independent studies have shown that — even if the most implausible, dire predictions were true — regulating CO2 would have a negligible impact on global temperatures, while the economic cost of such regulation would be enormous.

In the past 30 years, we have made remarkable environmental progress, and I would like to build on those successes. Unfortunately, despite the benefits of the Clear Skies Act as opposed to the drawbacks of other multipollutant bills, liberals and radical environmentalists refuse to support the president’s approach. We have an opportunity to drastically reduce air pollution and benefit human health. The stonewalling of those who would rather politicize the issue of CO2, however, threatens to prevent passage of any clean-air legislation.

In his recent testimony before the Environment and Public Works Committee, Stephen Johnson, President Bush’s nominee to be administrator of the EPA, said, “Clear Skies legislation will improve upon EPA’s regulations by creating a nationwide program with greater certainty and greater emissions reductions.” I agree with Johnson and firmly believe that we can protect the environment while providing energy security and a better economy. The enactment of Clear Skies would achieve all of these goals.

Unfortunately, those who voted against Clear Skies legislation have left the country completely dependent on recently regulations — mercury and pollution transport rules — to protect our nation’s air sheds. It is widely acknowledged that these rules will be tied up in court for years.

By voting against reasonable yet aggressive legislation, these Senators have gambled future clean air progress on the results of uncertain and far-distant court decisions. Clear Skies would have locked in this clean air progress for all time.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) is chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

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