- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2003

MONROE, Mich. - President Bush insisted yesterday that pollution regulations can be simplified without increasing emissions or slashing jobs - even at aging coal-fired power plants.

“When we talk about environmental policy in this Bush administration, we not only talk about clean air, we talk about jobs,” he told workers at the Detroit Edison Monroe Power Plant. “I believe we can do both.”

Mr. Bush explained how his administration recently simplified regulations, to encourage modernization of power plants such as Monroe’s. Previously, utilities were reluctant to tackle such upgrades because complicated regulations invited confusion and lawsuits.

“I changed those regulations,” the president told the mostly blue-collar audience. “Now we’ve issued new rules that will allow utility companies like this one right here to make routine repairs and upgrades without enormous costs and endless disputes.”

The change prompted Detroit Edison to move forward on a major upgrade it had been reluctant to implement since 1999 because of red tape at the Environmental Protection Agency.

“When the company took the plan to the EPA, the first thing that happened is they had to wait a year for an answer,” Mr. Bush said, prompting derisive laughter from management and employees alike.

“And when the answer did come back, it was so complicated - because the rules are so complicated - that Detroit Edison decided to delay part of the project until its experts could decipher the details of the ruling,” he added. “The government sometimes doesn’t help.”

In addition to touting the rules change, Mr. Bush announced implementation of a measure that will cut pollution from diesel vehicles. He also called on Congress to pass his “Clear Skies” legislation, which would use a market-based approach to aim at cutting power-plant pollution by 70 percent.

Democratic presidential candidates immediately attacked the Bush initiatives.

“The president’s ‘Clear Skies’ plan would actually allow more pollution from power plants, like the very one he is visiting today, than the current law,” said front-runner Howard Dean, a former Vermont governor. “This kind of bait-and-switch approach is, regrettably, the hallmark of this administration’s environmental policy.”

Another candidate, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, agreed.

“The backdrop of President Bush’s latest environment photo op - the dirtiest power plant in Michigan - says it all,” Mr. Lieberman said.

“Under Bush’s policies, this antiquated coal-burning plant will get a free pass to keep pumping smoke and soot into the air with impunity.”

Gerry Anderson, president and chief operating officer of Detroit Edison, said it was unfair to brand his facility the dirtiest in Michigan.

“This is the largest power plant in Michigan,” he explained to The Washington Times. “This is a 3,000-megawatt plant; the next largest is 1,100 megawatts.”

Mr. Anderson said it was “absolute rubbish” to suggest he will get any kind of pass on pollution.

“This plant has reduced sulfur-dioxide emissions since the mid-‘70s by two-thirds, and Clear Skies will require us to reduce the remaining one-third by 90 percent,” he said. “The truth is Clear Skies is something we fought hard to push back on because it’s a billion and a half dollars.

“So the ‘free pass’ for us is going to cost a billion and a half dollars - plus two to three hundred million per year in operating-cost increases,” he added. “It’s very expensive for us.”

Some environmentalists dismissed the president’s initiatives as a watered-down version of the Clean Air Act of the 1970s. But acting EPA Administrator Marianne Horinko said the simplification of power-plant regulations will reduce emissions.

“It’s important to literally clear the air on this rule,” she told reporters aboard Air Force One. “It’s been much misreported that this rule is going to somehow cause increased hospitalizations and increases in emissions.”

She added, “The rule will actually maintain the standards of the Clean Air Act.”

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