Illinois, 4 others seek own coal rules
Bush's air plan too slow, they say
By Michael Hawthorne and Jennifer Skalka
Published February 15th, 2005
Illinois and four other Midwestern states are considering
new rules that would require coal-fired power plants to
dramatically curb air pollution linked to lung damage,
heart disease and respiratory ailments.
Aimed at the region's biggest polluters, the proposal
would hold coal plants to stricter emissions standards
than the Bush administration is calling for under its
Clear Skies legislation, a revision of the Clean Air Act
that a Senate committee is scheduled to consider Wednesday.
Aging coal plants in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio
and Wisconsin--which account for about a quarter of the
sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide released by the nation's
power plants--also would have to meet earlier deadlines
for cleaning their smokestacks.
It is far from certain that the five states will act
on their own. But the region's environmental regulators
have concluded that more aggressive standards for coal
plants are the quickest and most cost-effective option
to clear the air of pollution that can trigger a variety
of health problems and take years off lives.
If adopted by each of the states, the regional endeavor
could require most of the coal plants in Illinois to install
expensive pollution controls. The goal would be fewer
days when the urban Midwest is blanketed with smog, haze
and lung-damaging soot.
Air pollution is so bad on some days in the Chicago area
that state officials advise people to limit outdoor activities.
However, it is unclear whether governors and lawmakers
are willing to take on an industry accustomed to getting
its way in state capitals.
Pressure from utilities led Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration
last fall to abandon a proposal that would have applied
only to Illinois coal plants. At the time, the Illinois
Environmental Protection Agency said making state rules
stricter than federal standards would drive up electric
rates and make the state's power supply less reliable.
During his State of the State address earlier this month,
Blagojevich said developing a regional approach is one
of his top priorities as he prepares to lead a group of
"We need to reduce emissions that come from old
coal-fired plants," Blagojevich said. "If we
work together, we can protect jobs and the environment."
Illinois officials said they would prefer a national
strategy to reduce air pollution, but they don't think
the Bush administration's proposals go far enough or fast
A report prepared for the region's environmental regulators
suggests two potential standards for emissions of sulfur
dioxide and nitrogen oxide, byproducts of coal combustion
that help create smog and acid rain and form tiny particles
of harmful pollution in the atmosphere.
One standard would be based on commercially available
pollution controls for older plants and another on limits
set for a handful of new coal plants going up across the
Like the Bush administration's proposals, the regional
approach would rely on a trading scheme where individual
utilities could buy the right to emit pollutants as long
as overall pollution levels remained below a certain limit.
But the limits set by the states would likely be lower.
Neither the national nor regional proposals addresses
carbon dioxide emissions, which are on the rise from power
plants and are linked to global warming.
If Illinois' coal plants were required to meet the suggested
regional standard for sulfur dioxide, emissions would
need to be about three to four times less than the Bush
administration's proposals envision by the end of the
"We might not have to go that far," said Laurel
Kroack, acting chief of the Illinois EPA air bureau. "But
we agree if we are going to be effective, we are going
to need a regional approach."
Illinois and other Midwestern states already are requiring
steeper reductions in smog-forming nitrogen oxides than
the federal government now requires. The new regional
plan would set the limit even lower.
"When you put the science on paper and see we what
we need to do to protect health in the Chicago area, it's
clear we need to do more about power plants," said
Bruce Nilles of the Sierra Club's Great Lakes Clean Air
Program. "The question is whether there is enough
political will to do it."
Ohio, for instance, joined utilities in fighting tougher
federal smog and soot standards during the 1990s. Many
utility executives have said they favor the Bush administration's
proposals, which give power plants more time to comply.
"We prefer a national strategy," said James
Monk, president of the Illinois Energy Association, a
trade group of the state's investor-owned utilities.
Attempts to get the Clear Skies bill through Congress
failed in 2002 and 2003. Bolstered by his reelection and
a Republican majority in the House and Senate, the president
is pushing the measure again.
"We see this as a great step forward," said
Bill Wehrum, a top U.S. EPA official working on the proposal.
"It recognizes what we think people can reasonably
Critics note the EPA's own analysts have determined that
enforcing the existing Clean Air Act could reduce emissions
faster than the administration's proposed changes.
And while the administration says its bill would reduce
power plant emissions by 70 percent by 2018, another EPA
analysis estimates that goal would not be met for another
eight years beyond that.
"My estimation right now is that it's a bad deal
for Illinois," said U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.),
a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee,
which is to consider the Clear Skies bill Wednesday.
As of Monday, the committee still was deadlocked on the