States To Sue EPA Over Air Pollution Standards

By J.R. Pegg

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 21, 2003 (ENS) - Seven states intend to file a lawsuit to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from the nation's power plants.

This is the third lawsuit in the past two months that challenges the administration's clean air policies, which many believe aim to relax regulations regardless of the impacts to the environment or public health.

The Bush administration's policy on carbon dixoide emissions, the filers of the lawsuit say, violates the Clean Air Act and contributes significantly to global warming.

"At a time when the rest of the world is taking steps to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, our nation is not even attempting to slow the rate of growth in its emissions," said New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer at yesterday's announcement of the intent to sue.

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New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is leading the coalition of seven states that are suing the Bush administration for its failure to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. (Photo courtesy Princeton University)
"It is imperative that the Bush administration establish a responsible and forward looking national environmental policy."

In addition to New York, the lawsuit includes Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington. All seven state attorney generals are Democrats. Of the seven states, four have Republican governors. These are Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island.

The states argue that the Clean Air Act mandates that EPA analyze the impacts of air pollutants from power plants and establish or revise air pollution standards every eight years. EPA, the coalition says, has not done this analysis in 20 years and should use its authority to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide, which most scientist believe is the cause of global warming.

This suit aims to force the Bush administration to address "the very real problem of global warming," said Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly.

The Bush administration contends that EPA did its required analysis in 1998, when it strengthened standards for nitrogen oxides. It has a steadfast policy against listing carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act and an active policy to protect industries from mandated carbon dioxide emissions reductions.

The administration withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, an international accord that would mandate greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and has declared that the science behind global warming is too uncertain for definitive action. This outraged environmentalists, some state officals as well as some U.S. allies, including the European Union.

The United States is responsible for 25 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, despite having only five percent of the world's population.

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Power plants account for 40 percent of the U.S. total carbon dioxide emissions, which equals 10 percent of the global total. (Photo courtesy Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government)
Instead of mandating action, the Bush administration has held the line on increasing fuel efficiency standards and has showcased a list of voluntary commitments from American industries to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

There is a Congressional effort, led by Senator Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, to pass legislation that would set limits on power plant emissions of carbon dioxide, as well as for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury.

But Congressional action will be difficult, the filers of the lawsuit say, and the Bush administration's policy is dangerous to the nation's environment, public health and economy.

"Virtually everyone responsible for environmental protection regards greenhouse gas emissions as a serious threat, except this administration's Environmental Protection Agency," said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

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The Bush administration refuses to take the threat of global warming seriously, said Connectictut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.(Photo courtesy Connecticut State Attorney General's office)
Power plants, the filers say, offer an easy and cost effective way to force significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions because it is a highly concentrated industry with high levels of carbon dioxide emissions.

Fewer than 50 companies account for virtually all carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. power plants, which contribute some 40 percent of the U.S. carbon dioxide emission total. This equals 10 percent of the global total.

The attorney generals sent EPA Administrator Christie Whitman the requisite 60 day notice of their intent to sue.

The suit is the third announced against the Bush administration's EPA in the past two months, all three directly challenging its enforcement of the Clean Air Act.

A suit aimed at preventing the administration from weakening the Clean Air Act's regulations that govern coal burning power plants has 10 states behind it.

The other suit, which involves Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine, is trying to force EPA to add carbon dioxide to the criteria pollutants list of the Clean Air Act. This would allow the agency to impose regulations on emissions of the greenhouse gas.

The lawsuit announced yesterday complements a legal action brought by Sierra Club and Our Children's Earth Foundation, two environmental groups. Their action contends that EPA, through its failure to regulate carbon dioxide and other pollutants from coal fired power plants and other industrial sources, is endangering public health.

"EPA's failure to update these standards allows power plants to emit massive, excessive air pollution that could and should be avoided by existing law," said Tiffany Schauer, executive director of Our Children's Earth. "The health of our children and our planet is in danger."