U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman last week told the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works that it is premature to put in place new carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions restrictions on power plants. But the president’s plan will be designed to curb nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxides (SO2) and mercury, she said. The administration’s proposed legislation also will strive to simplify the “complex web of existing regulations.”

Committee Chairman Sen. James Jeffords (I-VT), who recently defected from the Republican party and shifted the power in the Senate to the Democrats, indicated that legislation would gain his favor only if CO2 restrictions are in the mix. “I am disappointed about that [omission] and the administration’s position on the Kyoto Protocol,” he said. “I am disappointed in the administration’s approach to climate change.”

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) concurred. Lieberman is sponsoring a bill with Jeffords that would cut CO2 in addition to the other three power generation pollutants targeted by the administration’s bill. “While I applaud the administrations’s attention to critical air quality issues, I cannot support legislation that fails to address carbon dioxide emissions, the most abundant greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming,” said Lieberman.

Although not denying the relationship between CO2 and greenhouse gases, Whitman said there is insufficient scientific evidence at this time to set restrictions with any degree of certainty. If restrictions are set, it would leave room for substantial debate, litigation and the possibility that the regulations would have to be changed, which would put the industry in a state of uncertainty, she said.

“Scientists continue to learn more about global climate change, its causes, potential impacts, and possible solution. To address global climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, we are pursuing a broad array of conservation and energy efficiency goals under the administration’s national energy policy as well as the development of a comprehensive policy under the ongoing Cabinet-level review for this issue.”

Although it won’t tackle CO2, the administration’s proposed legislation will do the following to improve the environment: establish reduction targets for emissions of SO2, NOx and mercury; phase in reductions over a time period, similar to the successful Acid Rain Program established by the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act and to state programs; provide regulatory certainty to allow utilities to make modifications to their plants without “fear of new litigation;” and provide market-based incentives, such as emissions trading, to help achieve the required reductions.

“The president’s legislative approach stands in sharp contrast to the complex web of existing regulations which currently confront the industry,” Whitman told the committee. “Over the years, Congress, EPA and the states have responded to specific environmental and public health problems by developing separate regulatory programs for utilities to address the specific problems. Each individual program uses its own approach to serve its own purpose… If we have a new legislation that significantly reduces emissions of SO2, NOx and mercury, we can eliminate many of the individual programs that apply to the power generation sector and replace them with a system that will reduce the administrative burden on industry and governments, use market-based incentives to keep compliance costs low, and provide the industry with more certainty about its future regulatory obligations.”

Whitman said the administration hopes to offer its bill this fall.

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