State of the Union: Reaction from NRDC

White House 'Clear Skies' Actually Weakens Existing Air Pollution Laws, Lets Polluting Power Companies Off the Hook at Expense of Public Health

WASHINGTON, D.C. (January 28, 2003) -- The air pollution plan touted by the President in tonight's State of the Union address is in fact a significant reversal of existing Clean Air Act safeguards, favoring large utility companies and other corporate polluters over the health of the American public, according to NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).

"The President's plan actually rolls back existing air pollution laws, allowing any power plant in any community to increase emissions without safeguards to protect the public," said David G. Hawkins, director of the NRDC Climate Center. "We need tough enforcement of the Clean Air Act to protect. Instead the White House is siding with power plant owners and other big polluters."

The so-called 'Clear Skies' plan would delay clean up of the nation's most polluted air and undermine power plant pollution standards, jeopardizing respiratory health across the country.

"The President's plan would mean tens of thousands of avoidable deaths and countless trips to the hospital for asthma and other ailments over the next 20 years," Hawkins said. "Apart from the enormous human cost, this represents hundreds of billions in losses to the American economy."

Moreover, the plan does nothing at all to curb power plants' heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution, the main cause of global warming. Power plants are responsible for 40 percent of U.S. CO2 emissions. Ignoring this problem will only make it more expensive to fix the problem later.

"The President promised in his campaign to support a four-pollutant clean-up law; instead he is giving a proposal that is for polluters." Hawkins said.

According to research commissioned from the Environmental Protection Agency's own analytical consultants, the White House plan would allow 12,000 more avoidable deaths each year in the decade from 2008 to 2018 compared with strict enforcement of current law, prompting additional health costs of nearly $115 billion per year over that decade.

The Bush bill would further weaken the landmark Clean Air Act, the basic air quality protection law, by weakening programs needed to public health standards, and eliminating the critical 'New Source Review' provision. The plan weakens measures to protect local air quality, curb pollution from upwind to downwind states, and safeguard air quality and visibility in our national parks.

Compared with strict application existing law, the administration bill would cause:

  • Three times more toxic mercury emissions, and a 10-year delay in required cuts;

  • 50 percent more sulfur emissions, which cause acid rain and fine particle (soot) pollution,

  • Millions more tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxides.

For more information, see our page on the Bush administration's air pollution plan.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.