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Rep. Barton s Electricity Bill Bad for Consumers, Bad for Public Health

April 11, 2001

Rep. Barton s Electricity Bill Bad for Consumers,
Bad for Public Health

Plan Would Exempt Power Plants From Certain Emissions Standards

WASHINGTON, D.C.– Draft legislation being circulated by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) will significantly erode public health and environmental standards by allowing new power plants to be exempt from certain emissions standards, Public Citizen said today.

The bill, which Barton reportedly will introduce next week, calls for suspending nitrogen oxides (NOx) standards for the operation of existing power plants. The plan also would allow a state governor during an electricity emergency to request the Environmental Protection Agency to waive for up to two years certain NOx emissions standards for new plants. Further, Barton s bill would allow a state s governor, upon declaring an emergency, to allow existing natural gas-fired power plants to exceed certain emissions limits for up to six months.

Nitrogen oxides are formed in high-temperature combustion processes, such as those found in automobiles and power plants. NOx emissions play a major role in the formation of ozone, which leads to global warming and contributes to the formation of acid rain. Exposure to NOx can negatively affect the respiratory system, particulary of children and the elderly.

“Instead of punishing profiteering power companies for creating this energy crisis, Joe Barton s draft legislation rewards them,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “Consumers should be outraged that Barton s bill will make it easier for these greedy companies to further pollute our environment while they rake in profits.”

While Barton s proposal to gut environmental laws to build plants won t do anything to solve the electricity crisis, it will directly benefit his most generous campaign contributors. Nearly two-fifths of Barton s PAC contributions in the 1999-2000 election cycle more than $210,000 came from the energy industry, according to information from the Federal Election Commission.

“Joe Barton should know better than to reduce NOx emission standards,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen s Texas office. “With two Texas metropolitan areas [Houston and Dallas-Forth Worth] already out of compliance with minimum standards to ensure safe air, and three more areas on the verge [San Antonio, Austin and Longview/Marshall/Tyler], gutting environmental standards will only make matters worse — not just in Texas, but throughout the country.”

In writing his bill, Barton misidentified the cause of California s electricity crisis. Although he has said that the Golden State s power problems are caused by a shortage of power plants, in fact, the problems stem from deregulation s removal of public accountability from the power generation market, Hauter said.

State and federal investigations have pointed to manipulated prices and intentional power plant shutdowns as primary factors causing skyrocketing prices. A growing bipartisan group of Western governors and lawmakers has urged the federal government to enact temporary, region-wide wholesale price caps as the most effective short-term method for controlling the cost of electricity. Barton, however, has rejected this bipartisan approach, as has the electric utility industry.

Experience has shown that an overabundance of power is not the solution to deregulation troubles. Montana, where the electricity market was deregulated in 1997, has such an abundance of power that the state exports 40 to 60 percent of the power it produces. Still, electricity prices there have risen more than 400 percent since 1997, and nearly 1,000 Montana workers have been laid off because some of the state s largest employers have been forced to purchase overpriced electricity from the state s deregulated wholesale market.

The electric utility industry already is the source of 27 percent of nitrogen oxides emissions in the United States.

“It s time to clean the plants up not allow more unwanted deadly exposure to pollutants,” Hauter said. “Barton should not use energy deregulation failures as an excuse to reward his political contributors.”