Molly Ivins Doesn't Get It

On September 18, Molly Ivins, whose column is nationally syndicated, penned yet another screed attacking President Bush’s environmental policies, this time on New Source Review (NSR) and Clear Skies.

The column is the epitome of the shallowness and muddle-headedness of the criticisms leveled at the President, and is in league with the vacuous fundraising rhetoric employed by environmental groups. It betrays an astounding ignorance of environmental policy, and demonstrates once again that the President’s critics can’t address the facts surrounding his record:

Ivins vs. Reality #1

IVINS: But for the complete black-is-white, up-is-down, peace-is-war mode, you have to check out this administration on the environment. I am fascinated by its rank chutzpah. The latest brass-balls moxie episode was President Bush’s Monday visit to the Detroit Edison power plant in Monroe, Mich., which he actually touted as a ”living example” of why his dandy Clear Skies (gag me) initiative is so good for us all.

FACT: Leaving aside the question of whether the ‘gag me’ parenthetical strengthens the persuasiveness of Ivins’ contention, President Bush visited the Detroit Edison plant for a simple, yet very important reason: to highlight the kind of energy efficiency projects NSR was discouraging. President Bush’s NSR reforms will allow Detroit Edison to add new turbine blades without triggering costly, burdensome NSR requirements. The blades will increase efficiency of two turbines by 4.5 percent, resulting in 70 megawatts of additional power with no increase in fuel consumption or emissions. Ms. Ivins, in contrast to the vast majority of the American people, apparently doesn’t think this is a good idea.

Ivins vs. Reality #2

IVINS: The Monroe plant is one of the worst polluters in the country: In 2001, it sent 102,700 tons of sulfur dioxide, the leading cause of acid rain, into the atmosphere, along with 45,900 tons of nitrogen oxide, 810 pounds of mercury and 17.6 million tons of carbon dioxide.

A study done in 2000 by ABT Associates, which the Environmental Protection Agency has used to measure the health effects of pollution, says that the plant annually causes 293 premature deaths and 5,740 asthma attacks.

Under Clear Skies (these people are going to kill irony), the plant will continue to shed this beneficence on us all for the next 17 years. According to environmental groups, the administration’s relaxation of clean-air rules, known as the ”new source review,” will allow the plant to increase its emissions by 56 percent.

FACT: Seems Ms. Ivins has done a number on irony herself. How could such an accomplished journalist so hopelessly muddle the facts?

First, levels of sulfur dioxide from Midwestern power plants have dropped 40 percent in the past two decades, even as electricity production keeps rising. Emissions of nitrogen oxides are also declining.

Second, what would Clear Skies mean for Michigan? Under Clear Skies, Michigan sources would reduce emissions of SO2 by 18%, NOx by 27%, and mercury by 15% by 2020. The health benefits in Michigan would total $4.3 billion annually and include approximately 600 fewer premature deaths and 1,400 fewer hospitalizations/emergency room visits each year.

Ms. Ivins also writes that, “Under Clear Skies, the plant will continue to shed this beneficence on us all for next 17 years.” How, according to any accepted standard of measurement, could this be possible? Clear Skies, the most aggressive presidential initiative in history to reduce power plant emissions, mandates a 70 percent reduction in emissions of mercury, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide by 2018.

As for the claim that emissions at the plant will go up 56 percent? Again, false, as NSR reform will not increase emissions but will likely decrease emissions, because, as Ms. Ivins surely understands, properly maintained and more efficient generating units produce fewer emissions per unit of electricity generated.

Ivins vs. Reality #3

IVINS: Clear Skies (I give up: I refuse to call it that), which has yet to be enacted by Congress, is not to be confused with the ”new source review” rules, which the administration has already changed. The misnomer sets up a system under which dirty plants can buy ”pollution credits” from clean plants and keep polluting. ”New source review” is a glitch in the Clean Air Act passed in 1977. The act ”grandfathered in” more than 16,000 plants and industrial facilities in the expectation that they would gradually be in compliance in a few years.

FACT: This is drivel desperately searching for coherence. Ms. Ivins, in characteristic fashion, mocks the Clear Skies market-based trading system, but that system is the basis of every other multi-emissions proposal–the Jeffords bill, the Carper bill, for example–in the House and Senate. And which, as Ms. Ivins apparently forgot, is the basis of the highly successful Acid Rain Trading Program, passed as part of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments. That program has reduced emissions 50 percent with nearly 99 percent compliance.

Ms. Ivins writes that the CAA “grandfathered” certain facilities. What, Ms. Ivins, is the definition of grandfathered? To exempt. One might pose the following question: Can you point to one power plant or major industrial facility in the nation that doesn’t have to reduce emissions under the Clean Air Act? No, because there are none. Every major facility is regulated by the Clean Air Act and must meet defined permit levels — all of them. Every plant must abide by the ozone and PM standards, the MACT standards, the NOx and SIP Call, and every regulatory program applicable to each industry.

Ivins vs. Reality #4

IVINS: Under new source review, these dirty plants could perform routine maintenance without having to install cleaner technologies, but any major changes leading to more pollution have to meet Clean Air standards. An excellent article in the current all-environment issue of Mother Jones points out, “For nearly three decades, these facilities have gotten around the new source review rules by continually expanding and calling it ‘routine maintenance.’ ”

FACT: As yet another example of her distinguished journalism, Ms. Ivins attempts to prove her point about NSR reform by citing a wildly inaccurate generalization from…Mother Jones Magazine.

The definition of routine maintenance was a confusing regulatory mess. A coherent, straightforward definition of routine maintenance, according to, among others, unions, mayors, governors (the NGA, specifically), Democrats (including Democratic senators and the Progressive Policy Institute), even the Clinton Administration, was necessary to allow power companies to perform energy-efficient upgrades and maintenance on their plants.