Power play on air pollution

Electric plants: Dirty old generators seek White House aid in evading clean air obligations.

January 21, 2002

NEW LIFE MAY be in order for old power plants that belch the pollutants that cause smog and acid rain and otherwise endanger human health.

Under the guise of ensuring energy supplies, President Bush is moving to undermine the Clean Air Act and allow these coal-fired power generators to avoid installing new pollution controls.

At issue is the "new source review" provision that requires plants to install the latest anti-pollution technology if they are expanded or upgraded.

The president believes that backing off this rule would encourage more production, ensuring sufficient energy levels. But it would also encourage the power industry to increase the use of dirty older plants.

Maryland would be a decided victim of this rollback. Thousands of hospital visits for respiratory and heart problems each year are tied to local unhealthy air conditions, and airborne pollutants continue to foul the Chesapeake Bay.

Maryland is among the states that, together with the federal government, are suing 51 of the older, dirtier power plants for failure to install cleanup technology after upgrades.

These huge generators, mostly in the industrial Midwest, account for a third of polluting emissions.

The 1970 Clean Air Act has forced many utilities to build cleaner facilities or install better technology in old plants. The law doesn't hinder energy production, or reduce efficiencies. Changing the rules simply profits the polluting scofflaws.

Mr. Bush, who promised in the campaign to make electric utilities reduce emissions and improve air quality, ought to stick to his original thought.

Enforcing the "new source review" rule is the most cost-effective way to achieve better air quality, especially with more than half of U.S. electric power produced by dirty coal.

The president should reject proposed breaks for polluters so the nation can breathe easier.

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