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Policy Update 12/21/2010: Rockefeller punts dirty air act


Policy Update 12/21/2010: Rockefeller punts dirty air act

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Last week, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) made an unsuccessful last-minute attempt to put the Clean Air Act before Congress adjourns. Procedural changes in the appropriations bill stopped the vote, but Rockefeller and his allies in the coal and oil industries are resolved to keep fighting the Clean Air Act when Congress reconvenes January 5th -- three days after the Clean Air Act kicks in for greenhouse gasses.

Senator Rockefeller vs. The Clean Air Act

Last week Senator Rockefeller (D-WV) filed an amendment to block the Clean Air Act via the "omnibus" appropriations bill in the Senate. This move would have forced a vote with a 67-member threshold; he didn't have the votes to win, but he wanted to speak out on record against the new Clean Air Act regulations for greenhouse gasses. When other elements of the omnibus deal started falling apart, Rockefeller announced he would put his efforts on hold until next year.

Clean Air Act Implementation - Jan. 2nd

Beginning January 2, 2011, the Clean Air Act's greenhouse gas regulations go into effect. 49 state-level agencies will require a permit for building new sources of pollution, substantially. Texas is the only state that isn't prepared to issue new regulations to big polluters. For years the Bush administration punted Clean Air Act regulations down the line for conventional pollutants, like smog and air toxics. One Bush era EPA Administrator compares these rules to "grenades," because now the Obama EPA is forced by a number of court deadlines to hit science-based standards established under the Clean Air Act for a number of different pollutants.

These long-overdue public health regulations are key drivers for coal plant retirements right now. Recent estimates suggest that 100-150 average-sized coal plants worth of coal-fired generating capacity could be retired by 2020. Many of the oldest, dirtiest coal plants will be forced to undergo expensive modernization investments, or shut down, and invest in new cleaner generation. Power plant owners have much to lose, and are fighting tooth and nail to keep their old plants up and running. Even though utilities have seen these rules coming for years, they argue that they aren't prepared to meet the new standards.

Health groups are fighting alongside the climate community to make sure these new Clean Air Act rule move forward: The Clean Air Task Force estimates that current coal pollution kills over 13,000 Americans each year. The LA Times reports on a group of 6th graders in Oklahoma who are fighting back against coal ash in their community:

Congress is Getting Things Done

Obama's deal over tax cuts included key incentives for renewable energy and dirty energy. Executives from the wind and solar industries were up in arms last week over news that the Senate tax package would not extend key tax credits for their industries. In a later deal, the program has been extended for these key job-producing industries.

The 2009 Recovery Act grant program is credited with adding an additional 40,000 wind energy jobs in the last two years, and has the potential to create 58,000 new jobs in the solar industry by 2016. Analysis suggests that the program resulted in 6,000 additional MW of wind power last year beyond business as usual -- the equivalent of 12 average-sized coal plants.

In other congressional news,

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