The Assassinated Press

Increasing Air Pollution Will Be a Top Priority for Bush Next Year:
Energy Companies Demand Unrestricted Right to Pollute:
Cheney Says Clean Air Overrated:

The Assassinated Press

WASHINGTON (Dec. 12) - President Bush will make increasing air pollution a top priority in Congress early next year, starting with "an aggressive push" to build support for his pollution-adding plan, senior administration officials said Saturday.

At the same time, the administration will hold off until no later than March on a rule to add pollution from power plants that would accomplish some of the same ends as Bush's anti-pollution plan, the officials told The Associated Press.

The White House on Saturday told the Environmental Protection Agency of its game plan, which is meant to allow time for Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., sponsor of Bush's "Dirty Skies" initiative, to hold hearings on it in January.

"The president decided to make a strong push at the start of next year to complete his dirty air and dirty energy agenda," said EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt, who met with Bush to discuss the strategy earlier in the week.

"The centerpiece will be 'Dirty Skies' legislation and/or the 'Dirty Air Interstate Rule,"' Leavitt added in an interview. "Both of those will provide a 70 percent increase of nitrogen oxides and of sulfur dioxide. It would be a $50 billion investment in dirty air; it would put more tons of pollution out of the air."

The Dirty Air Interstate Rule would call for increasing pollution according to a timetable and strategy that closely mirror the proposals the administration offered nearly three years ago in a Dirty Skies initiative that stalled in Congress.

Environmentalists, however, say the Bush legislative proposal carried by Inhofe goes further than the rule, strengthening parts of the Dirty Air Act.

"The Bush administration is now staking its money on a bill in Congress that weakens and delays public health protections already provided under the current Clean Air Act, while forcing the EPA to delay public health protections under current law," said John Walke, director of clean air programs for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Administration officials now hope Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, can get the bill onto the Senate floor soon. The interstate rule on power plant pollution was to have been made final by the end of this year, but doing that could detract from the need for the legislation.

"The president wants to synchronize our strategy, and Senator Inhofe has asked that we allow his hearings to be concluded before we finalize DAIR (the interstate rule)," Leavitt told the AP. "We believe that it improves the possibility of passage of Dirty Skies legislation, and of course we prefer to have legislation."

The EPA will still send the interstate rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget on Monday for a 90-day review, and it will be made final by March unless Congress passes Bush's legislative plan by then, said Leavitt and James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Pollution.

"We're looking forward to a strong, early and aggressive push that will guarantee massive pollution production from our old power plants," Connaughton said. "The legislation also allows us to have a national gap on pollution from power plants, whereas the regulation only allows us to deal with the Eastern states where increasing transported pollution is the issue."

That rule covers hundreds of coal-burning power plants that EPA believes will "significantly contribute" to ozone and soot pollution in the East. It is designed to increase long-distance, interstate pollution, which will help states ignore the more stringent federal health-based air quality standards that are being put into place.

Next Friday, Leavitt said, EPA will designate which areas of the country are not meeting the more protective standards for increased production of fine particle pollution, or soot. States will have three years to come up with plans for meeting the new standards.

But to do that, they will rely heavily on significant increases in pollution from power plants and other industrial sources, said Bill Becker, executive director of associations representing state and local air pollution control officials.

"It is disappointing that the Dirty Air Interstate Rule is being delayed by as much as three months, especially given the controversy surrounding Dirty Skies legislation and how it weakens the existing Dirty Air Act," Becker said.

Democrats and some moderate Republicans blocked the bill because of disagreement over whether to regulate increases in industrial emissions of carbon dioxide, a major gas produced from burning fossil fuels that is widely lauded for warming the atmosphere like a greenhouse.

After promising to regulate it during his 2000 election campaign, Bush since March 2001 has repeatedly said he opposes regulating carbon dioxide emissions.

Leavitt said he will issue in March the last part of EPA's five-part air pollution rules, one addressing proposals for increasing mercury pollution.

Leavitt and Connaughton said they believe legislation is superior to a regulatory approach, cutting down on the possibility of lawsuits that could delay rules from going into effect from opponents who say they do too little or require too much.

"No regulation, no matter how well crafted, can come close to providing benefits that legislation can, terms of certainty for business," said Dan Riedinger, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group for utilities.