issue guide: Clear Skies Act

The Skinny

See also background & facts, pro & con, links

What's Up

Clear Skies was introduced in Congress in 2003 as the latest update to the Clean Air Act, the decades-old federal law for regulating air pollution. The new act would remove complex regulations in the law and instead encourage industry to curb pollution through caps and market-driven incentives. Opponents claim Clear Skies would weaken the long-established goals of the Clean Air Act and push its timelines farther into the future. Although Clear Skies was batted around committees in 2004 and 2005, it ultimately languished.

Now, with Democrats at the healm on Capitol Hill, congressional leaders are likely to take an entirely different tack on pollution regulation - so Clear Skies may have seen its final sunset.

What the Debate's About

Air quality influences many aspects of daily life - the most obvious being human health. But regulating air quality can have a negative impact on the economy, particularly coal-fired power generation, which is the baseline resource for most industry in the United States. The debate over Clear Skies is largely about where to draw the line between protecting our health and making sure that air quality regulation doesn't unnecessarily hurt certain industries.

Supporters of Clear Skies claim that it can effectively reduce pollution while doing so at lower costs and with the possibility for more innovation:

  • The Act provides for an overall 70% cut in emissions from power plants and other sources by 2018.

  • Lower costs will be achieved throughout the economy, particularly under the “cap-and-trade” system that was successfully used to reduce acid rain at a reasonable cost.

  • Savings on health care from lower pollution are also expected—as much as $93 billion, easily making up for the projected $6.5 billion needed for industry to comply with the Act.

  • The Clear Skies Act gives industry the time to test new technologies for cutting pollution. Sharing successful innovations could lead to new processes and even cleaner air at a more rapid pace.

  • While the Clean Air Act is slowed by lawsuits that split hairs over its regulations, the Clear Skies Act removes many of the unresolved mandates and standards, allowing industry to move forward with pollution reduction immediately.

Opponents of Clear Skies say it doesn't go far enough in lowering pollution and that the Clean Air Act, if left alone, does a better job of protecting the environment:

  • Although it reduces pollution, the Clear Skies Act would do so more slowly than if the Clean Air Act went unchanged.

  • Clear Skies doesn't address carbon dioxide emissions, a major source of global warming (see citizenJoe's overview of Global Warming for more on that debate).

  • Clear Skies gets rid of “New Source Reviews” (NSRs), which require that old coal-burning plants meet the latest pollution standards whenever they are upgraded or expanded.

  • Lawsuits will not go away with Clear Skies: states instead will argue against a restriction in the bill that limits their ability to force “upwind” states to abide by pollution regulations.

Where Things Stand Now

Although strong Republican majorities in both chambers gave Clear Skies sunnier prospects in 2005, the bill won't be given a chance to shine after all. The Senate committee that needed to pass the bill to the floor for a general vote hit a weeks-long stalemate and eventually gave up. The democrats are unlikely to pick it up in 2007.

Written by Kevin Speth and vetted for balance by Thomas Lindaman.(Updated April, 2007)

Did we miss something, let some slant slip in, lose a link - or do you just have something to say? Drop a line below! In the spirit of open dialogue, cJ asks you keep it civil, keep it real and keep it focused on the message, not the messenger. See our policy page for more on what that all means.

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