Sens. Carper and Alexander Push For Stronger Clean Air Standards

Bipartisan Team Says the Lack of Clean Air Rules Jeopardizes Americans' Health and States' Ability to Attract Jobs, Spur Economic Growth

WASHINGTON – Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) announced today that they will be working on legislation to reduce harmful sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx) and mercury emissions from America’s power plants.

Following their congressional roundtable today, the two Senate Environment and Public Works Committee members said they are in agreement that the nation’s air is not getting any healthier while clean air regulations remain tied up in the courts, and Congress should put the nation back on the right track.

“Congress must take action now on clean air legislation. Recent clean air court cases have raised important questions about the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to write stronger clean air regulations without congressional action,” Sen. Carper said. “Air pollution knows no state boundaries; we need a nationwide approach. We have waited too long and risked the health of too many Americans. The time to act is now."

“We have the technology to make the air cleaner, and we should be using it. There is no need to delay dealing with sulfur, nitrogen, and mercury while we figure out what to do about carbon,” Sen. Alexander said. “The Tennessee Valley Authority needs to put sulfur, nitrogen, and mercury controls on all the large coal plants it intends to keep open, but TVA actions alone will not be enough to give us clean air in the Great Smoky Mountains and in Tennessee. We need strong national standards like those in the legislation Senator Carper and I will introduce, because so much of our dirty air blows in from coal power plants in other states.”

Sens. Carper and Alexander have long maintained that we need a national strategy to deal with several pollutants from power plants simultaneously.

Although the two have differed on some issues, namely how to allocate pollution allowances, Sens. Carper and Alexander said Thursday that they will work together in the coming weeks to devise a compromise bill to regulate power plant emissions of mercury, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, leaving carbon dioxide emissions to be determined by a global warming bill. 

On July 11, 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down the CAIR rule, which set a federal requirement for power plants in 28 eastern states and the District of Columbia to reduce sulfur and nitrogen emissions by using a cap-and-trade program. CAIR would have reduced sulfur dioxide emissions in the participating states and D.C. by over 70 percent and nitrogen oxide emissions by over 60 percent from 2003 levels. EPA predicted that by the year 2015, CAIR would have provided $85 to $100 billion in annual health benefits and cost approximately $4 billion. EPA also estimated CAIR would have prevented 17,000 premature deaths annually, millions of lost work and school days, and tens of thousands of non-fatal heart attacks and hospital admissions.

Sen. Carper said that although CAIR would have been a positive development, it could have gone farther. Moreover, CAIR did nothing to reduce harmful mercury pollution, and court challenges to a weak Bush administration mercury rule were also struck down by the courts. 

Sens. Alexander and Carper sent a letter on August 12, 2008, asking Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), to work with member utilities to “prevent unnecessary pollution from harming our communities.” The letter was also signed by Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.). Today’s was the second clean air roundtable the two senators have held in the past six months. The previous one was on the need to find a legislative fix to the vacated CAIR rule.