Thursday, February 09, 2006

Voinovich clean-air hearing backfires

You might call it a witch hunt in search of a non-existent witch.

It was billed as a hearing to examine the impact that clean-air regulations have on painfully high natural gas prices.

And Senator George Voinovich (R-OH), who called and chaired today’s hearing, made it clear he had made up his mind before witnesses had even begun to speak: “Clean air regulations have increased demand for natural gas,” charged Voinovich, adding that the demand has led to “the highest natural gas prices in the world.”

The problem for Voinovich is that two Bush administration witnesses basically pulled the rug out from under his sweeping assertions.

Even power company lobbyists in the Senate hearing room were snickering that Voinovich couldn’t find a witness to support his premise.

Bill Wehrum, the acting assistant administrator for air pollution control at EPA, “said acid rain, smog and New Source Review maintenance rules put into practice since passage of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments are not major factors affecting the cost of clean-burning fuel,” Greenwire noted today. Wehrum added that future cleanup requirements would also have minimal impact.

Also shooting down Voinovich’s premise was Howard Gruenspecht, deputy administrator of the Energy Information Administration, who noted to Voinovich’s Senate Clean Air Subcommitee most power companies had met clean-air obligations by using pollution controls at coal-burning plants, or switching to low-sulfur coal. He added that coal-burning had actually increased more than natural gas use at power plants since 1990.

Undeterred by the facts, Voinovich bade his federal witnesses farewell by proclaiming “My theory is that the clean-air regulations exacerbated the demand for natural gas.”

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