Clear Skies Initiative Faces Stormy Future

Published September 1, 2003

Congressmen on both sides of the aisle are predicting contentious deliberations over President George W. Bush’s Clear Skies Initiative.

“None of the necessary consensus is in place to achieve a major change in the law,” said Rep. John Dingell (D-Michigan).

The lack of bipartisan momentum for the Clear Skies Initiative was underscored by a July hearing convened by a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Only one witness was called to comment on the issue.

Testifying before the subcommittee, Environmental Protection Agency Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Jeffrey Holmstead described the Initiative as “historic.” Holmstead heralded the Initiative’s blend of proven regulatory concepts, ambitious goals, and market-friendly innovations as unprecedented.

The Initiative will “take advantage of the parts that work very well and use those to replace the parts that do not work very well,” said Holmstead.

Markets vs. Regulation

The most contentious aspect of the Clear Skies Initiative is its cap-and-trade approach to reducing pollution. Setting emission caps and allowing the market to decide which companies can most efficiently reduce pollution will meet pollution-reduction goals in the most effective way, testified Holmstead.

“I can guarantee you that if you adopt Clear Skies, we will get greater environmental benefits and we will do it at the lowest possible cost,” he said.

Opponents of the plan asserted the federal government should instead mandate stricter pollution standards under the current framework of rigid, universally applicable regulations. Clear Skies opponents want the federal government to mandate that all power plants use best available pollution control technology.

“As a public health nurse, I have serious concerns with the President’s plan,” said Rep. Lois Capps (D-California). “Rather than enforcing the Clean Air Act, the President’s plan would delay current deadlines for particular areas to achieve clean air–this extension would force millions of Americans to continue to breathe unsafe air.”

“Clear Skies will lead to a cleaner environment without large increases in fuel cost and without all the doom and gloom we are hearing from the environmental community,” countered Rep. John Shimkus (R-Illinois).

Congressional Democrats vowed not to support the Clear Skies Initiative as proposed, and instead demanded the opportunity to draft alternative clean air legislation.

“If Clear Skies really was the superior policy choice, the administration would give Congress analysis of competing proposals,” complained Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of California.

“The implication that the President’s proposal is the only game in town does not bode well for a thoughtful and a thorough inquiry into what changes if any need to be made to the Clean Air Act,” added Dingell.

Air Quality Is Improving

Before the subcommittee hearing, Regulation magazine published an article by Joel Schwartz, a senior fellow in the Reason Public Policy Institute’s Environmental Program, documenting dramatic improvements in air quality since the early 1980s.

“Even the most polluted areas of the country achieved impressive ozone reductions during the last 20 years,” reported Schwartz.

“The nation’s success with air quality extends beyond ozone to other pollutants,” he continued. “For example, between 1981 and 2000, carbon monoxide (CO) declined 61 percent, sulfur dioxide (SO2) 50 percent, and nitrogen oxides (NOx) 14 percent. Only two among hundreds of the nation’s monitoring locations still exceed the CO and SO2 standards. All areas of the country meet the NOx standard. For all three pollutants, pollution levels are well below the EPA standards in almost all cases … This downward trend in pollution levels will continue.” (An excerpt from Schwartz’s study appears on page 1.)

“America has made significant progress over the last 30 years in our quest for cleaner air, and we have learned a lot about what approaches work best. Now is the time to put those lessons to use,” Bush noted in July of last year, when EPA submitted to Congress legislation that would implement the initiative he announced in February.

“In the next decade alone,” Bush pledged, “Clear Skies will eliminate 35 million more tons of pollution than the current Clean Air Act, bringing cleaner air to millions of Americans. Clear Skies will also help save our forests, lakes, streams, and coastal waters from acid rain and nitrogen and mercury deposition. And Clear Skies will do this through the use of a market-based system that guarantees results while keeping electricity prices affordable for the American people.”

Bush is hoping for congressional approval of the Clear Skies Initiative during the fall session.

James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News. His email address is [email protected].

For more information …

about the Clear Skies Initiative is available on the White House Web site at

You can also download from PolicyBot, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database, an article by Jeffrey Holmstead, “Clear Skies: A Better Way to Regulation,” from the May/June 2003 issue of Electric Perspectives. Point your Web browser to, click on the PolicyBot icon, and search for document #12671.