It may seem like a sideshow to the congressional battle over drilling, but tens of thousands of people may see their lives cut short by air pollution – and they have Joe Barton to thank.
Yesterday Congressman Barton (given the moniker “Smokey Joe” by the Dallas Morning News for his efforts on behalf of polluters) blocked efforts in Congress to advance a compromise plan to reduce power plant emissions. The compromise, put together by Senator Tom Carper of Delaware and Congressmen John Dingell and Rick Boucher, was designed to codify the first phase of the Bush EPA interstate air pollution rule (the so-called “clean air interstate rule” or CAIR) struck down by a federal court.
The Carper-Dingell-Boucher plan also would have taken away the so-called “coal bonus” that the Bush administration inserted into the rule to reward coal-burning companies such as Southern Company. (Among other things, this would have had the effect of reducing costs to Texas electricity consumers compared to the original CAIR plan.) The plan was also designed to trigger more aggressive long-term pollution reductions than contained in the original Bush plan. (The Bush administration spent considerable energy in recent weeks trying to sidetrack this more aggressive long-term strategy.)
Southern Company had vigorously opposed the Carper-Dingell-Boucher initiative because the company got greedy. It did not want to lose that coal bonus. (Of course, the head of Southern Company is also chair of the influential power industry lobby, the Edison Electric Institute http://www.eei.org/newsroom/press_releases/080617.htm ).
And EEI is a major contributor to Barton, the Texas Republican who is the “ranking member” of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. So is the coal lobby, the National Mining Association: http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/contrib.php?cycle=2008&cid=N00005656
Because there are only a few working days left in Congress, Dingell and Boucher hoped to proceed under a streamlined process that required Barton’s cooperation.
But yesterday Barton said no deal. As reported in this morning, Environment and Energy Daily, Barton said he wanted to spend time in the next Congress “thoroughly reviewing not only the CAIR regulations, but the entire Clean Air Act.”
So there you have it. Barton, who in the past has introduced legislation to weaken the Clean Air Act, now is holding the CAIR fix hostage. He wants another crack at weakening the Clean Air Act.
The result, according to the EPA, will be thousands of premature deaths, as well as heart attacks, emergency room visits and lost work days. This, of course, will include significant public health damage in Barton’s own state – and will make it harder for Texas and other states to meet national clean air standards.
So don’t be fooled by Southern Company lobbyists. The villain in this saga is Joe Barton.