What has the Bush administration done?

Power Plant Pollution

  • Withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. Power plants are prime emitters of carbon dioxide, the chief cause of global warming. The power industry successfully lobbied the administration to withdraw from the Kyoto treaty and renege on President Bush’s campaign pledge to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. For more details, see page 12 of Special Interest Takeover.
  • Ended legal action to force compliance with clean air standards. Following recommendations of the Cheney energy task force, the Bush administration announced that it would limit litigation to force compliance with clean air standards, which aging power plants have widely violated. The Clinton administration had launched a host of lawsuits against power plants to compel compliance, but the administration’s decision slowed momentum on these cases and most remain unresolved. For more details, see page 75 of Special Interest Takeover.
  • Rolled back clean air standards for the oldest, dirtiest power plants. When pre-1972 power plants (which were “grandfathered” from compliance with the Clean Air Act) undergo major upgrades, operators must install modern anti-pollution equipment required of a “new source.” However, operators can perform “routine maintenance” without triggering this obligation. This loophole has been widely and illegally exploited, yet the Bush administration moved to expand it, allowing plants to undergo more extensive upgrades – which can result in more pollution – without being retrofitted with the latest pollution controls. Fortunately, a federal appeals court preliminarily enjoined the administration’s action, ruling that the plaintiffs – including 12 attorneys general – had demonstrated a “likelihood of success on the merits.” For more details, see page 14 of Special Interest Takeover.
  • Granted new loopholes for power plants to avoid clean air standards. In addition to expanding the “routine maintenance” loophole, the administration granted a number of other ways for plants to avoid installing new pollution controls. Specifically, the administration exempted plants from updating pollution controls if those controls were considered sufficient up to 10 years ago; weakened emissions targets by allowing plants to count any pollution decreases made over the last decade as credit to “offset” pollution increases made today; and allowed plants to inflate their “pollution baseline” – against which pollution increases are measured – to make it easier to avoid cleanup obligations (new pollution controls must be installed only if changes to a facility result in significant pollution increases – 40 tons per year). For more details, see page 16 of Special Interest Takeover.
  • Pushed its Orwellian “Clear Skies Initiative.” To cover its tracks, the administration created a political smokescreen in the form of the Clear Skies Initiative, which proposed new targets for power-plant emissions that actually offer fewer benefits than simply implementing and enforcing current law. An EPA analysis found that competing bipartisan legislation – which, unlike the administration’s plan, sets limits for carbon dioxide emissions – would achieve far more benefits and be highly cost-effective. However, the administration attempted to hide this analysis, and continues to push Clear Skies, which the Senate has thus far rebuffed. For more details, see page 17 of Special Interest Takeover.
  • Derailed EPA’s move to aggressively address mercury emissions. In 2000, EPA concluded that mercury is a “hazardous” pollutant under the Clean Air Act requiring the strongest possible controls – which the agency estimated would cut mercury emissions by 90 percent within three years. However, at the end of 2003, the Bush administration proposed to revoke this determination in favor of a plan – drawn from the Clear Skies Initiative – that demanded smaller reductions in mercury emissions stretched over a longer period of time. As highlighted by the Environmental Integrity Project , EPA calculations show that the administration’s plan would achieve reductions of only 38 to 46 percent by 2020, leaving annual emissions between 26 and 30 tons. Shortly after the administration issued its proposal, the Food and Drug Administration warned women of childbearing age to avoid eating tuna because of mercury contamination, which is linked to a number of neurological disorders, including learning and attention disabilities and mental retardation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that 8 percent of women have levels of mercury in their blood that could endanger their offspring. For more details, see page 18 of Special Interest Takeover.
  • Rolled back energy efficiency standards. In its final weeks, the Clinton administration issued a standard requiring that new air conditioners and heat pumps be made 30 percent more energy efficient by 2006. At the urging of manufacturers, the Bush administration immediately lowered this requirement to 20 percent, but a federal appeals court threw out this rollback, finding that it violated the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act, which prohibits such backsliding. If the Bush plan had been allowed to move forward, it would have meant 51 million metric tons of carbon emissions (equivalent to that of 34 million cars), $21 billion extra spent by consumers on utility bills, and the construction of additional power plants. For more details, see page 21 of Special Interest Takeover.
  • Declined to address haze over national parks. Power-plant pollution has covered our national parks and wilderness areas with a thick, whitish haze. In the Great Smokey Mountains and Shenandoah National Parks , for instance, summertime visibility is about one-eighth what it would be without this pollution. In 2002, in a decision strongly disputed by environmentalists, a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated part of a Clinton-era rule on regional haze that was meant to address this problem. The Bush administration issued a replacement plan in April 2004, meeting a court ordered deadline. However, the administration later indicated that this plan could be substituted with a new proposal on interstate transport of power-plant emissions modeled on the president’s feeble Clear Skies Initiative. EPA’s own analysis demonstrates that this approach would have little impact on haze, improving visibility in the East by only 2-4 miles while current visibility is impaired by as much as 80 miles. For more details, see page 63 of Special Interest Takeover.

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