Saturday, July 08, 2006

Clear Skies, Mere Lies

I'm beginning to feel more and more like Winston Smith:


Some of you may recognize this doublespeak slogan as the guiding credo of the INGSOC government in George Orwell’s classic, 1984. If so, you may also remember that the slogan is nothing but contradictory nonsense supported by twisted logic, all meant to confuse the “proles” into complacency.

To those three unforgettable lines, I would posit a new line of equally contradictory nonsense--inspired by the Bush administration's failed forays into environmental policy:


The Clear Skies Act was advertised in 2003 as a helpful supplement to the Clean Air Act. It has come back into prominence recently because 12 states (Virginia not one of them), as well as several US cities and environmental groups are suing the EPA over "Clear Skies" amendments made to the Clean Air Act. The plaintiffs argue that carbon dioxide, a leading cause of climate change that is wholly ignored under “Clear Skies,” must be controlled as an airborne pollutant.

The US Supreme Court will make their decision this fall in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency--a case that will pit climatology against ideology.

In light of the upcoming legal battle over the validity of climate change, I think it’s high time we reexamine that murky nadir of environmental legislation, the Clear Skies Act. The Act, despite its misleading name, is nothing more than another example of Orwellian doublespeak.

Among the reasons hailed by Big Brother Bush as to why “Clear Skies” will keep America’s lungs breathing freely:

BUSH'S CLAIM: The Clear Skies act provides the first ever cap on mercury emissions.

THE FACTS: Tricky language. While no law specifically set caps on mercury emissions, laws covering “toxic air pollution” would have limited mercury emissions to 5 tons per point source by 2008. The so-called "Clear Skies" Act loosens those caps to 26 tons by 2010--a 520% increase in mercury emissions from original goals. Hardly something to tout.

Perhaps more frighteningly, an EPA study on the teratogenic effects of mercury on unborn children was not brought to public attention until journalists exposed it nine months after its completion. The results of this silenced study? Mercury can cause mental retardation in infants. Oops.

BUSH'S CLAIM: The Clear Skies Act cuts emissions of Nitrous Oxide (NOx) by 67%.

THE FACTS: Another example of tricky language. While Clear Skies would cut NOx emissions by 67%, the Clean Air Act would have cut them by almost one million tons more had it been left untampered.

That’s like saying, “Under my plan, we will donate $100 to charity,” when the orphans were promised $10,000.

BUSH'S CLAIM: The Clear Skies Act protects our wildlife, habitats, and ecosystem health.

THE FACTS: The Clear Skies Act subverts one of the most valuable systems states have to protect their environment: The legal system. Under the Clear Skies Act, states can’t sue each other over ecosystem threats like upwind air pollution. This is vital for the in states like New York where
H2SO4 generated by West Virginia’s coal-fired power plants travels upwind and and acidifies lakes.

Perhaps Dubya doesn’t understand that state borders don’t apply to acid rain.

BUSH'S CLAIM: The Clear Skies Act saves as much as $1 billion in compliance costs that are passed along to the American consumer.

THE FACTS: The Detroit Edison power plant where Bush first unveiled this sparkling piece of legislation is, ironically, one of the most polluting power plants in the country. The EPA (yes, the EPA) estimates that each year, Detroit Edison is responsible for 293 premature deaths, 5,740 asthma attacks and 50,298 lost workdays. Due to a loophole in the Clear Skies Act, the power plant won’t have to install any pollution-controlling technology until 2020!

Sure, that'll be 4,981 premature deaths (from this power plant alone) since the Clear Skies Act was announced, but at least we won’t have to pay any “compliance costs!”

BUSH'S CLAIM: The Clear Skies Act is a better alternative to the Kyoto Protocol in the fight against global climate change.

THE FACTS: This is perhaps the biggest joke of them all, and the crux of the upcoming Supreme Court case. Carbon dioxide, the number one anthropogenic greenhouse gas—a molecule upon which the entire scale of measuring a molecular global warming potential is based—has ABOSULTELY NO CAPS! None! Zero! Cutting CO2 emissions is completely voluntary under current US emissions law! No government penalties for excess emissions, no government incentives for limiting emissions, no carbon trading program. Apparently the, “better alternative to the Kyoto Protocol,” entails ignoring climate change entirely.

Don’t even get me started on Dubya’s “Healthy Forest Initiative." Let's just say, the Logging Industry loved it.

Ignorance is strength, right?

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