President Bush yesterday for the second day in a row called on Congress to reduce air pollution at a time when Democrats are stepping up their criticism of the president’s environmental record.
Mr. Bush met with utility officials in the White House, urging them to lobby lawmakers to pass his “Clear Skies” initiative, which he said would harness market forces to cut air pollution by 70 percent.
“We’ve just got to make sure that once these bills get moving that the undecideds hear from us,” he told the officials afterward in a speech on the South Lawn. “Congress must act on this initiative.”
Democrats have derided the Clear Skies proposal as an attempt to dilute the Clean Air Act, enacted three decades ago. They say it would give utilities a free pass to increase emissions.
But the president said Clear Skies would cut emissions by establishing a cap on the kinds of pollutants that cause smog and acid rain. Utilities that fail to comply with the caps could purchase credits from other energy producers who are under the limits, thus buying time to modernize their own power plants.
“Power plants will have the flexibility to meet the standards,” Mr. Bush said. “Instead of government telling utilities where and how to cut pollution, we will tell them how much to cut and when we expect progress to be made.”
Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean ridiculed the measure. He called on the Senate to block the president’s nominee for Environmental Protection Agency administrator until Mr. Bush takes more-dramatic steps to cut pollution.
“Bush claims his plan will give us ‘clear skies,’” Mr. Dean said after the president visited a coal-fired power plant in Michigan on Monday. “But his actions will allow this very plant to dirty our skies with tens of thousands more tons of pollution every year.”
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, has already vowed to put a hold on the nomination of Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt until she completes an inquiry into whether the EPA misled the public about air quality in New York after September 11.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan cautioned that antipollution measures that are too drastic would wipe out American jobs at a time when the administration is trying to reduce unemployment. He reminded reporters that the Senate overwhelmingly rejected the Kyoto Protocol on global warming because of the “billions of dollars it would cost the economy and the millions of jobs that would be lost.”
That is why the president’s clean-air initiatives do not call for reductions in carbon dioxide, which is not considered a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. The White House believes such reductions would cause a major setback in the economic recovery.
“It could have a very negative and harmful effect on jobs, job creation and our economy,” Mr. McClellan said. “It could cost us a lot of money in increased energy prices, could cost us money in terms of the economy, and would be a job killer to take a drastic approach like that at this point.”
Mr. Bush added, “People in this country must understand that we can have a pro-growth agenda, a pro-job agenda and a pro-environment agenda at the same time, and Clear Skies legislation is just that.”