By Candia Dames
SILVER SPRING – President Bush came to Silver Spring on Thursday to unveil clean air proposals that he promised would protect the environment and prolong the lives of thousands of Americans with asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
Opponents immediately attacked Bush’s “Clean Skies” proposal as a major rollback of the Clean Air Act.
Bush, speaking to an auditorium full of enthusiastic workers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said his proposal would cut sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent; cut nitrogen oxide emissions by 67 percent; and for the first time ever, cut mercury emissions by 69 percent.
Those reductions will be completed in two phases, the president said, the first by 2010 and the second by 2018.
“This legislation will constitute the most significant step America has ever taken to cut power plant emissions that contribute to urban smog, acid rain and numerous health problems for our citizens,” he said.
Bush’s plan would put in place a cap-and-trade approach that sets emissions limits for power plants. Those plants whose emissions fall below the limits could “sell” the difference to polluting plants, who would then use the credits to fall within the standards.
“Instead of the government telling utilities where and how to cut pollution, we will tell them when and how much to cut,” Bush said.
Environmental groups were quick to dismiss Bush’s plan as industry- centered and impractical.
“The policy formula that the administration has put forward represents a political payback for its friends in the coal and power industries,” said Don Shawhan, a spokesman for Maryland Public Interest Research Group.
He said Marylanders should be particularly concerned that the Bush plan would slow down the reduction of power plant emissions, because more than 1,000 state residents die prematurely every year from diseases caused by those pollutants.
Charlie Garlow, chairman of the Sierra Club’s Air and Energy Council called the plan “a sweetheart deal for the energy industry and a Valentine’s Day gift for polluters.”
But the president said Clean Skies will save hundreds of millions of dollars now spent on lawyers for suits filed under the Clean Air Act. He said his plan would replace “a confusing, ineffective maze of regulations for power plants that has created an endless cycle of litigation.”
Bush also rejected international calls for set reductions in greenhouse gases, instead proposing that reductions be allowed to shift to account for economic growth. He said his proposal would still prevent over 500 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from going into the atmosphere over the next decade, without choking the economy.
“And that is the equivalent of taking 70 million cars off the road.”
But John Walke of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Clean Air Program said Bush’s policy would “allow greenhouse gas emissions to continue to grow, just at a slower rate.”
While environmentalists had little good to say about the president’s appearance Thursday, some Silver Spring workers appeared happy to have him.
With roads blocked and the presidential buzz in the air, workers poured in to the Einstein Brothers Bagels shop on Colesville Road for an afternoon snack as they waited to catch a glimpse of the presidential procession
“It created a whole lot of traffic,” said Sheri Weldon, an Einstein Brothers employee who estimated that business was up more than 65 percent Thursday. “It would help us out tremendously if the president came around more often.”