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Senators Go Straight at Coal in "The Clean Air Act Amendments of 2010"

Some leading businesses, Hollywood, Obama, and the public are putting the pressure on Congress to move forward with a comprehensive climate and clean energy bill, but while we wait on that, some Senators have decided to tackle some specific coal pollutants that cost the American public trillions of dollars in healthcare costs, hundreds of thousands of lives, and great human suffering every year in another way.

12 Democratic, Republican and Independent Senators have just put forth “The Clean Air Act Amendments of 2010” to protect countless Americans who are being harmed by extremely toxic coal emissions everyday.

Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) introduced the bill last Thursday and got 10 other senators from across the political spectrum to co-sponsor it.


215,000 lives and more than $2 trillion in health care costs [would be saved] by 2025, by cleaning the air and thereby reducing Americans’ likelihood of suffering from chronic lung disease, asthma, or lung cancer” from these Clean Air Act ammendments, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates. (emphasis mine)

186 million Americans live in areas where air pollution endangers lives, according to the American Lung Association. As a result of this and other factors, the US is now ranked 61st internationally (down from 39th) in overall “environmental performance”. In other words, our environmental quality of life has diminished significantly compared to other nations.

Senator Carper appropriately said:

“Twenty years have passed since Congress passed significant revisions to the Clean Air Act. While there have been some significant environmental progress along the way, clearly we can do better. If the legislation we are introducing today is enacted, we will do much better. The Clean Air Act Amendments of 2010 provides us an opportunity to work across the aisle, something we do too rarely these days. Passage will not only help us clean up our nation’s power sector and our nation’s air, it also will provide the certainly and predictability that an important industry in America needs. And, it provides us an opportunity to work with utilities, with environmentalists, and with towns and communities across America to improve the lives and health of tens of millions of Americans in the years to come.”

Senator Alexander added: “Mercury can contaminate our crops and water supply, ultimately harming brain function and other vital organs, and is especially harmful to children and pregnant women. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides can contribute to respiratory illness and other lung diseases.”

Specifically, the following are the requirements of the proposed amendment:

Cut SO2 emissions by 80 percent (from 7.6 million tons in 2008 to 1.5 million tons in 2018).

Cut NOx emissions by 53 percent (from 3 million tons in 2008 to 1.6 million tons in 2015).

Cut mercury emissions by at least 90 percent no later than 2015.

This legislation would work to ensure that regulations are cost-effective by including a nationwide SO2 and NOX trading system, and the EPA would regulate mercury itself.

It has been 20 years since Congress tightened the Clean Air Act and although the EPA has tried to put stricter controls on nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and mercury, court challenges have continually invalidated those proposals.

Senators Carper and Alexander, as well as Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), Edward Kaufman (D-Del.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), have co-sponsored this bill in order to try to address those problems.

Image Credit: Señor Codo via flickr under a CC license

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