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Great Lakes Article:

EPA official, critic clash over Bush's air pollution proposal

July 2, 2002


Chicago Sun Times

Clean air advocates and the head of the regional Environmental Protection Agency clashed Monday over the merits of President Bush's Clear Skies Initiative.

EPA Region 5 Administrator Tom Skinner said the plan "makes the most ambitious cuts in power plant emissions since the 1990 Clean Air Act."

But Ron Burke of the Chicago Lung Association countered: "We're calling it a rollback."

Skinner said that by cutting cases of asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory ailments, the Clear Skies plan would save $93 billion in health costs by 2020. Savings in Region 5's six Midwestern states would amount to $17 billion, he said.

Over that period, 12,000 people will avoid premature death, including 2,500 in the Midwest, Skinner said. Although power plants will be forced to cut emissions, the cost of electricity in the Chicago area will remain below average, he said.

But Burke said the proposal's purpose "is to protect polluters from the Clean Air Act. It is a smokescreen for thousands of needless deaths and billions in health care costs."

He said that while it mandates reductions in emissions of nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury, the Bush plan says nothing about carbon dioxide--unlike the Jeffords-Lieberman bill in the Senate.

Skinner aide Douglas Aburano said that's because technology to remove carbon dioxide emissions has not been developed yet.

John Thompson of the Clean Air Task Force said the Bush plan is "a very modest proposal." For example, its promise to avoid 2,500 deaths locally by 2020 compares with avoiding 3,800 deaths by 2007 in the Senate bill.

"There is no change until 2018," Thompson said. "It has no bite until my 2-year-old enters college."

In a related development Monday, the state EPA said the Chicago area has failed to achieve a federal goal for ozone after earlier indications it would meet the standard.

The area's failure to meet the one-hour ozone standard was caused by muggy weather in late June, the state EPA said.

Last fall, the Chicago region became the nation's largest metro area to achieve the goal, and was the first to do so after being designated "severe non-attainment" in 1990.

To meet the goal, the area can't exceed the standard more than three times over three years. The Chiwaukee station in Wisconsin went over the limit once in 2000 and three times during June 22-24.

State EPA Director Renee Cipriano said that weekend had the most conducive weather conditions for ozone formation since July 1988. Ozone is created when sunlight reacts with volatile organic materials and nitrogen oxides.

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