Is “Clear Skies” really so ghastly?
David Whitman, in a compelling article in the Washington Monthly, argues that Bush’s Clear Skies initiative is getting a bum rap from enviros. (He also argues that the much-vilified Jeff Holmstead, the Bush appointee who heads the EPA’s Office for Air and Radiation, doesn’t wholly deserve his anti-green rep.) Whitman asserts that the bill would do some real good, and debunks the widely repeated claim that the proposal would permit more pollution than the Clean Air Act. (Turns out there was more than met the eye to that bit about a secret EPA PowerPoint slide asserting that Clear Skies would make compliance cheaper and easier for utilities.) Whitman doesn’t claim the Bushies are without fault, and he certainly berates them for plain old dumb PR strategy surrounding their air-pollution initiatives. And he doesn’t claim that Clear Skies is the best thing since sliced bread. Rather, his point is that this issue isn’t black and white — or black and green, as enviros have tried to paint it.
As expected, the big green groups have reflexively bashed Clear Skies, loath to admit that something halfway decent could emanate from a Bush admin compromise, or that making some progress, even if not as much as they want, is better than no progress at all. Whitman also criticizes enviros for having little good to say about the admin’s Clean Air Interstate Rule, a regulatory version of some more likeable portions of Clear Skies (though Grist’s Muckraker managed to quote a couple greenies saying a few half-hearted almost-positive things about it).
But there have been developments since Whitman’s article came out. The admin surprised folks earlier this month by throwing a wrench into the EPA’s plan to finalize the Clean Air Interstate Rule, the aim being to increase pressure on Congress to pass Clear Skies, which the White House is now declaring a priority. Now that the admin has disowned the rule, enviros are finding lots of nice things to say about it. And the White House is looking less credible about wanting to make progress rather than score political points.