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Analyst Drops Odds on Multi-Emissions Bill Following Senate Committee Vote

Christine Tezak, an analyst with Stanford Washington Research Group, last Wednesday dropped her odds for multi-emissions legislation backed by the Bush Administration being enacted into law this year to roughly 1 in 10 after the measure (S. 131) deadlocked in the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on a bipartisan vote of 9 to 9.

"It is possible that the Senate may come back to the bill after considering transportation legislation, but we're not holding our breath at this point," wrote Tezak. Prior to the vote, the analyst said that she thought the bill had a one-in-three shot at becoming law in 2005.

After Wednesday's committee action on the legislation that is dubbed "Clear Skies," U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-VT), the ranking member of the committee, expressed hope that the Senate would now begin a bipartisan process for strengthening the Clean Air Act.

Jeffords and 18 bipartisan cosponsors have introduced the Clean Power Act, which he said would set stronger limits for nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury, as well as mandatory controls on carbon dioxide emissions.

Meanwhile, in a rare meeting of the minds, top officials with a national mining group and a leading environmental organization both agreed on Thursday that greater regulatory certainty is needed in terms of addressing emissions from coal-fired power plants in the U.S.

"With where we are right now under the Clean Air Act and the proposed amendments and other things, we don't know what the rules of the game are," said the National Mining Association's Jack Gerard in an appearance before a conference convened by the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "If you talk about a chilling effect to investment and other things, we need to know what the regulatory landscape and the legal landscape is going to look like five, 10, 15 years down the road."

The conference looked at possible solutions to the challenge of developing and using coal in an environmentally friendly manner to help meet the country's growing demand for power.

"We had an unfortunate turn of events yesterday on the multi-emissions Clear Skies legislation," the mining association executive said in reference to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee's vote. "That's a perfect example of what we need," Gerard said in reference to the Clear Skies legislation. "That bill would cost the industry over $50 billion, yet the industry supported it because it would provide us the certainty we need to make those costly investments looking to the future to preserve the coal burner."

"Unusually, I'd like to agree with Jack Gerard on his point about the value of regulatory certainty," said David Hawkins, who works for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "This is an important feature, and it's especially important for carbon dioxide," he added.

"If you're planning a power plant today, that power plant is probably not going to be online for 10 years," the NRDC official said. "If you think that policy may change sometime in the next 15 years, that means that power plant is only going to be five years old when the policy has changed. That's not a situation that's going to encourage people to put a billion dollars in a new coal plant."

Hawkins said that if "you set the rules now, you can give the industry 15 years of lead time. If you wait for 10 years of political pressure to build, then you're not going to have anywhere near that lead time, you're not going to have the business certainty and you're going to have a lot of coal plants built that aren't designed to deal with CO2 [carbon dioxide]."

Also on Thursday, Acting U.S. EPA Administrator Steve Johnson on Thursday signed the final Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), which will permanently cap emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the eastern United States. When fully implemented, CAIR will reduce SO2 emissions in 28 eastern states and the District of Columbia by over 70% and NOx emissions by over 60% from 2003 levels, the federal agency noted.

This week, the EPA is scheduled to issue the first-ever requirement for coal-fired power plants to control mercury emissions. However, a large collection of U.S. Senators recently told Johnson that the EPA should strengthen the proposed mercury rule.

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