Johnson Sworn in as EPA Administrator; Roberts as U.S. Supreme Court nominee; Market-Based Mercury; McCain-Lieberman Proposal Takes another Hit; Senate Approves an Energy Bill-It's Nuclear

Johnson Sworn in as EPA Administrator

Stephen L. Johnson, a 24-year EPA veteran, was sworn in as the 11th Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on May 2, 2005. Johnson is a self-proclaimed "career scientist," reflecting President Bush's directive to focus on sound science. There are some questions on his ability to lead an Agency that has continued to lose political credibility under the Bush Administration. President Bush is on his third EPA Administrator, indicating that there are deeper problems with the environmental agenda. Until these larger issues are resolved, the EPA can be expected to struggle.

Roberts as U.S. Supreme Court nominee

President Bush's nomination of John G. Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court is not expected to cause too much commotion from environmental groups due to his limited record in environmental cases. While serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Roberts dissented on an endangered species case in favor of a California construction company against the Department of the Interior. In another case, he ruled against an environmental group in a copper smelter-emissions standard. However, as an attorney, he argued on behalf of environmental protection in defending a moratorium on new development at Lake Tahoe, Nev. Roberts appears to be an old-fashioned conservative, meaning he is less of a political ideologue and more of a traditionalist for existing institutions-family, school, church and the law. This upsets both the neoconservatives and liberal extremists, which makes him a good candidate.

Market-Based Mercury

The pressure is on the EPA to reach a workable solution to the mercury-pollution problem, especially in the wake of a prominent peer-reviewed study that calculated U.S. loses of $8.7 billion annually due to the impact of mercury on children's brain development [1]. EPA is reconsidering a market-based emission program in lieu of coal-fired power plant technology-based controls to manage mercury pollution. The 1990 Clean Air Act Section 112 requires the EPA to set maximum achievable control technology (MACT) emission limits for hazardous air pollutants. MACT is defined as the average of the best performing 12% of a source category. The MACT program normally results in requiring companies to invest in add-on pollution control equipment systems.

In March of this year, the EPA withdrew the section 112 (MACT determination) from the rule-making process to enable them to apply market-based emission trading as a method to control mercury. On May 31, 14 states and a number of groups filed a lawsuit against the EPA challenging their decision to withdraw from section 112. They claim that the market-based approach is not as stringent as MACT. The EPA says the market-based approach will result in a 50% decrease in mercury emissions by 2020 and a 69% reduction after 2020. According to the states and other groups suing the EPA, the MACT controls would reduce mercury emissions by as much as 90% by 2008.

McCain-Lieberman Proposal Takes another Hit

For a second time, a greenhouse gas-emission reduction proposal put forth by Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) was rejected by the Senate. Their proposal would require U.S. industry to make sharp cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases over the next five years. The McCain-Lieberman amendment would have put in a carbon dioxide-trading program, while increasing subsides for nuclear power. The program would have been similar to the successful sulfur-dioxide cap and trade approach, placing an artificial cap on CO2 emissions and creating a market for individual companies to trade pollution credits.

Instead, the Senate approved a bill to promote voluntary adoption of technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions relative to economic growth. Although the bill is a weak attempt at curbing CO2 emissions according to Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Nebr.), he said his amendment moves us in the right direction [2]. Perhaps Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.), co-sponsor of the Hagel amendment, was right when she told the Bureau of National Affairs that the amendment at best "...focuses attention on climate change that has not been here before, and that progress perhaps will help us result in a greener final energy bill."[2]

Senate Approves an Energy Bill-It's Nuclear

Having recently returned from Vietnam, which plans to complete construction of ten power plants this year and 84 over the next five years, it is easy for me to understand the importance of energy to grow and sustain a society. The recent debates on energy planning in the U.S. are no exception, and nuclear energy appears to be back on the table as a recognized source of relatively clean energy. The Senate passed a $31.2 billion energy spending bill on July 1. Large portions of the bill are dedicated to nuclear-related issues: $6.3 billion for DOE's environmental management program, which oversees the clean-up of more than 100 Cold War-Era nuclear weapons research and production facilities; $577 million for nuclear-waste repository at Yucca Mountain; $449 million for nuclear-energy research; and $368 million to build a facility to convert plutonium from nuclear weapons into mixed-oxide fuel for nuclear power plants.