Clean Air Politics Enrage Environmentalists

By J.R. Pegg

WASHINGTON, DC, March 17, 2003 (ENS) - Clean air groups attacked the environmental voting records and industry ties of six Congressmen from Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas last week, legislators they believe represent a serious threat to the nation's clean air laws.

A coalition of local and national clean air groups issued a report targeting the six lawmakers, including the chairs of Congressional committees with direct oversight of clean air policy.

The report, titled "Smoke From the Toxic Triangle: How Big Industry's Pet Politicians Are Choking Our Clean Air Laws," finds that these lawmakers have influential positions that give them the ability to guide legislation through Congress that many environmentalists believe will be damaging to the nation's clean air laws and to public health. basketball

Clean air advocates believe poor and minority communities suffer disproportionately from air pollution. (Photo courtesy Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB))
The nation is facing a "perfect storm for big polluters," said Pete Altman, executive director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition and lead author of the report.

"What will happen in this Congress could shape the regulatory landscape for clean air for a generation."

The three committee chairs named in the report are Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, and Republican Representatives Joe Barton of Texas and Billy Tauzin of Louisiana.

Inhofe chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Tauzin chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Barton presides over the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality.

All three introduced President George W. Bush's plan for reforming the nation's clean air regulations, which they refer to as "Clear Skies."

The other three targeted in the report are House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Representative Ralph Hall and Senator John Cornyn. All three are from Texas.

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Republican Senator James Inhofe said the Clear Skies initiative will dramatically reduce power plant emissions. (Photo courtesy Senator Inhofe's office)
These lawmakers, according to the report, hail from states that have poor air quality records and have received considerable financial support from industries that could benefit economically from relaxed emissions requirements.

Not all of the lawmakers cared to comment on the report, but a spokesman for Inhofe said the report is "a joke."

Ken Johnson, a spokesman for Tauzin, said "we are not hostile to clean air, we are hostile to hot air.

"These are the same old arguments being made by the same old groups who would prefer to see Americans go to work in horse and buggies instead of cars," said Tauzin's spokesman.

"While these groups bellow out their belch, we are going to push the President's Clear Skies initiative, designed to reduce power plant emissions by 70 percent. To our critics we say stick that in your smokestack."

The report focuses on the voting records and fundraising of the six lawmakers and raises concerns about their support of the Bush administration legislative and regulatory revisions to clean air statutes, as well as their opposition to regulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

It notes that several of the lawmakers have been sharply critical of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), including Inhofe and Delay, who have both referred to EPA as a "Gestapo agency."

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Representative Tom Delay of Texas (Photo courtesy House of Representatives)
The report's authors worry that the lawmakers' hostility to the EPA will affect federal and state oversight of federal air quality mandates.

"This has a dampening effect on how EPA implements the laws and how state regulators do their jobs," Altman said. "No one wants to incur the wrath of a member of Congress."

Of particular concern to environmentalists is the Clear Skies initiative offered by President George W. Bush, which they contend will do little to clear or clean the nation's air.

The President's plan has been "drawn up by and for the big polluters," said Frank O'Donnell, executive director of the Clean Air Trust, a national clean air organization.

But supporters of the initiative say it will reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury more quickly and efficiently than the current law.

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Republican Representative Billy Tauzin chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee and introduced the Bush administration's plan to change the nation's clean air laws. (Photo courtesy Representative Tauzin's office)
Still, the EPA's analysis of mandates in the Clean Air Act for reductions of these pollutants indicates that those mandates would reduce pollution emissions more quickly than would the measures under the Clear Skies bill.

The bill does not mandate any reduction of carbon dioxide, which most scientists believe is the leading contributor to global warming. Several of the lawmakers cited in the report side with the Bush administration on this issue and oppose regulation of C02 emissions and question the certainty of global warming.

The report quotes Barton as having said that the global effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is a "global plot against the economic stability of the United States."

A spokesman for Cornyn rejected the notion that the Senator would be a "rubber stamp" for the initiative or for any administration policies.

"The [President's] bill has a long way to go," said Don Stewart, communications director for Cornyn. pollution

Texas has some of the nation's worst air pollution. (Photo courtesy LABB)
The groups' clean air report details campaign contributions to the six lawmakers from political action committees that represent oil and gas companies, electric utilities, chemical manufacturing firms, mining groups, auto manufacturers and steel producers.

It finds that "each of these members is among the top recipients of campaign funds from industries that benefit the most from weak clean air laws and outright rollbacks."

"The close ties to the industry gives credence to rumors that politicians are on the take," said Katy Hubener, executive director of the Blue Skies Alliance of Texas.

"The public is distracted by war and unaware of a midnight massacre to gut environmental protections," warned Hubener. "It is imperative that they get this message."

There are a lot of "little old ladies in Texas who would be surprised to hear themselves labeled as big polluters," said Stewart.

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A member of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade collects an air pollution sample. (Photo courtesy LABB)
"You need to look at the credibility of an organization that calls anyone who works for an oil or electric company a 'big polluter.'"

But it is the lawmakers whose credibility should be under the microscope, said Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a grassroots environmental group founded to give individuals directly affected by air pollution a forum to voice their concerns.

The public health implications of the proposed reforms of clean air laws are severe, she said, and many communities are already suffering from lax oversight of federal and state air pollution laws.

Tauzin's home district, Rolfes said, has several poor, minority communities near oil refineries and chemical plants, but the Congressman seems unconcerned with their plight.

Despite frequent requests for a visit, Rolfes explained, Tauzin pays only "lip service" to these constituents.

"We do not have $500,000 to give Mr. Tauzin, but we think our lives matter," Rolfes said. "It is time the rest of the country knows what is going on in the home districts of these Congressmen."

The clean air groups' report can be found at: http://www.cleanairtrust.org/pdf/smokefromtoxic.5A154.pdf

The Bush administration's Clear Skies initiative is online at: http://www.epa.gov/clearskies/