Dirty secrets behind the campaign to poison your air

John Walke’s Blog

Posted April 23, 2012 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment, U.S. Law and Policy

By John Walke, Clean Air Director/Senior Attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council

Sometimes a moment captures dirty, squirming truths like a rat trap. That happened last week in the Senate.

The Senate’s clean air subcommittee convened a hearing on EPA’s mercury and air toxics standards (MATS) for power plants that burn coal and oil. These landmark standards will prevent 130,000 asthma attacks, 5,000 heart attacks and up to 11,000 premature deaths every year starting in 2016. [pdf]

Staff for Republican Senators invited two former Bush administration officials to criticize these health standards: Susan Dudley, former head of the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and Jeff Holmstead, former EPA air chief turned utility industry lawyer/lobbyist.

Mr. Holmstead headed EPA’s air office during most of the Bush administration when it evaded the power plant air toxic standards required by the Clean Air Act. Instead Mr. Holmstead oversaw EPA’s adoption of substitute rules that allowed all power plant air toxins save mercury to go unregulated; set weaker mercury standards whose ultimate reductions were delayed by nearly two decades; and prescribed a cap-and-trade program for the neurotoxin, mercury. A federal appellate court overturned the Bush administration rules in a scathing ruling [pdf] that compared the agency’s legal reasoning to the capricious Queen of Hearts in “Alice in Wonderland.”

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