Progressive Writers Bloc

Clean Air Act?

By Carolyn Westmoreland

Last month, while Congress debated, fought, and strong-armed for key votes in order to pass the Medicare and energy legislation, a rewrite of the Clean Air Act was tucked into the Clear Skies initiative regarding regulation of small engines. The Clear Skies initiative would have exempted corporate polluters from employing pollution controls needed for clean air too. After looking into the Clear Skies initiative I learned that more dirty air will be the result if the initiative is enacted.

Two-cycle engines create large amounts of pollution because they are inefficient. Two-cycle engines release 25-30% of their oil and gas unburned into the air. Toxins such as benzene and acrolein are released into the environment when even minuscule amounts of gasoline are released unburned. These engines also release toxins into the air when heat causes the fuel in the tank to evaporate or when an engine is refilled. Once released into the air, nitrogen oxides, and unburned fuel molecules, called hydrocarbons, react with sunlight to form smog. The hotter the weather, the quicker the chemical reactions happen, so in hot weather even more smog is created. Benzene and related chemicals are known carcinogens

Senator Kit Bond of Missouri inserted a rider into this legislation that will prohibit regulating emissions from small engines. By coincidence, Briggs and Stratton manufactures engines and parts in Poplar Bluff and Rolla, Missouri. The only exception to the rider inserted into the Clear Skies initiative by Senator Bond is the state of California.

I’ve always thought of our state as a leader and a good example for other states to follow, but it will not happen this time unless the Clear Skies initiative is blocked permanently, or changed by the court. Under the Clean Air Act, only California has had the authority to implement initiatives that go beyond federal standards. Other states were then given the opportunity to adopt California standards if they thought it would help clean up the air in their own states. This rider, attached to the Clear Skies initiative, if allowed by the court to stay as written, does not allow other states to implement new standards for small engines. California is the only state that will be allowed to regulate small engine pollution. This is a back room deal that will affect the health of millions of people. When this plan came to the light of day the directors of air pollution control agencies in eight states said that this prohibition, "will limit the ability of all states to solve serious public health-related air quality problems."

Small engines are not the only problem with the Clear Skies initiative. The Bush administration tried to exempt corporate polluters from installing EPA required pollution controls. This rule change would let corporate owners of polluting facilities operate without installing effective pollution controls, or even giving notice to people living near these facilities. The Clean Air Act requires that any expansion of facilities include reductions in pollution. The Clear Skies initiative was all set to go into effect in 17 states, including CA, when thankfully, a panel of three judges in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the changes "demonstrated the irreparable harm and likelihood of success"

So, the court has blocked a move by the Bush administration that would exempt corporate polluters from employing pollution controls needed for clean air. The court did not give an exact date on when oral arguments would take place, but it is speculated that this could happen by next fall, with a decision in late 2004 or early 2005.

After looking into the Clear Skies initiative, I’m certain that the changes our administration tried to make in the Clean Air Act are unhealthy for all of us. The clear choice should be clean air.

To find out more about the Clear Skies initiative and other recent legislation that should concern all of us, please follow the links from our web site:



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