Naked City

Clear as Mud

Alcoas Rockdale facility, the worst-polluting power 
plant in Texas.
Alcoas Rockdale facility, the worst-polluting power plant in Texas.

Anyone who breathes, take note: A U.S. Senate subcommittee this week began debate on the Clear Skies bill that the Ministry of Misleading Names – better known as the White House – has proposed to amend the 1970 Clean Air Act. The new "Clear Skies" amendment would aim to reduce three major pollutants by 70% by 2018: sulfur dioxide (linked to acid rain and soot), nitrogen oxide (ozone/smog), and mercury (birth defects). On the surface, that sounds pretty good. However, a coalition of Texas environmental groups, including the SEED Coalition, TexPIRG, and Public Citizen, warned that 70% and 2018 are too little and too late. Especially in Texas: According to EPA data, we're the fourth-worst state when it comes to sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, and the worst in both mercury and carbon dioxide, which the bill does not even address. The groups want to see emissions reductions targeted for 2008, a decade sooner than the president; they also complain that the bill would eliminate the "New Source Review" standard, which requires older power plants (the largest point sources of air pollution, including now-grandfathered facilities at Alcoa in Rockdale) to install new pollution controls when they upgrade.

But the environmentalists' arguments were not based solely on science and technology. As is the fashion among progressives in the age of Values Voters, the coalition press conference this week featured a bona fide Person of Faith who could quote the Lord's opinion on ozone – which, among other things, reduces visibility. "Now we see through a glass, darkly," said the Rev. Tom Heger of Texas Impact, quoting 1 Corinthians, and adding, "We can see clearly if legislators use good science, and good laws, and good enforcement. If not we'll see darkly. We'll cough. And we'll kill." He meant, we believe, "smite."

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Clear Skies Act, TexPIRG, Public Citizen, SEED Coalition, Tom Heger, Texas Impact, New Source Review

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