During the same February 14 speech in which President George W. Bush announced his new greenhouse gas program, the President proposed mandatory reductions in sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and mercury emissions under a cap-and-trade system.
The newly announced Clean Skies Initiative requires cuts of roughly 70 percent in power plant emissions of what EPA calls “the three worst air pollutants.” The initiative is designed improve air quality using a mandatory but market-based approach.
The Clean Skies Initiative:
- Cuts sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions by 73 percent, from current emissions of 11 million tons to a cap of 4.5 million tons in 2010, and 3 million tons in 2018.
- Cuts emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) by 67 percent, from current emissions of 5 million tons to a cap of 2.1 million tons in 2008, and to 1.7 million tons in 2018.
- Cuts mercury emissions by 69 percent–the first-ever national cap on mercury emissions. Emissions will be cut from current emissions of 48 tons to a cap of 26 tons in 2010, and 15 tons in 2018.
The model for the Clean Skies Initiative is the 1990 Clean Air Act, which provided for mandatory pollution reductions under a similar cap-and-trade system. The cap-and-trade approach allows businesses that find ways to reduce pollution beyond their pre-set goals to sell their newly created pollution “credits” to other businesses who come up short on their goals.
While generally perceived as more economically friendly than one-size-fits-all regulations, the cap-and-trade system has been criticized by economists for creating an “artificial” market for pollution reduction. (See “Economist warns against false promise of CO2 controls,” Environment & Climate News, January 2002.) Nevertheless, the Bush administration feels the approach provides the best available mechanism for dramatically reducing the EPA’s “big three” pollutants.
Although Bush’s Clean Skies Initiative dramatically reduces the pollutants in question, the U.S. Senate may demand he go further. Senate Environment Committee chairman Jim Jeffords (I-Vermont) has called for even more cuts in the target pollutants. Jeffords would also like to regulate carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions as if they were pollutants. Debate will continue on Jeffords’ proposals throughout the spring.