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Study: Top U.S.Air Polluters Are Closely Tied to Bush Fundraising, Pollution Policymaking Process

May 5, 2004

Study: Top U.S.Air Polluters Are Closely Tied to Bush Fundraising, Pollution Policymaking Process

As Rules Are Relaxed, Sulfur Dioxide and Carbon Dioxide Pollution Go Up; Key States Include AL, FL, GA, IN, KS, MI, MN, MO, NM, OH, PA, TN, TX, WV and WI


WASHINGTON, D.C.  The nations’ top polluters, as measured in terms of mercury, sulfur dioxide (SO2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, are power plants owned by corporations that are tightly allied with the Bush administration in terms of both campaign contributions and pollution policymaking, according to a new study from two nonprofit and nonpartisan groups, the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and Public Citizen. The report finds that sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide pollution both rose from 2002 to 2003, posing higher risks to Americans in terms of asthma attacks, lung ailments, premature death and, in the case of mercury, heightened risk of neurological damage to children.

The report, America’s Dirtiest Power Plants: Plugged into the Bush Administration, ranks the top 50 polluting power plants for three pollutants.   While the power plants represent only about 5 percent of the more than 1,000 such facilities in the United States, the worst offenders dominate the industry’s problem emissions: 43 percent of sulfur dioxide pollution, 31 percent of CO2 pollution and 43 percent of mercury pollution. The report is available at http://www.environmentalintegrity.org and http://www.WhiteHouseForSale.org.

Since 1999, the 30 biggest utility companies owning the majority of the 89 dirtiest power plants examined in the study have poured $6.6 million into the coffers of the Bush presidential campaigns and the Republican National Committee (RNC). The companies and one of their trade associations, the Edison Electric Institute, have produced 10 “Rangers” and “Pioneers,” the Bush campaign super-fundraisers who collect at least $200,000 or $100,000, respectively, in earmarked contributions.    The 30 companies hired at least 16 lobbying or law firms with 23 Rangers or Pioneers between them who have raised at least $3.4 million for the Bush campaigns. These firms, together with the private utility industry’s trade association, met with Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force at least 17 times to help formulate the country’s energy and pollution policies.

“It is no coincidence that a wholesale assault on the Clean Air Act is taking place today,” said Environmental Integrity Project Director Eric Schaeffer. “This attack is part of a campaign by a White House that understands what the industry wants and is willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen.  No one should have any illusions about what is happening:  This is a well-connected industry that is absolutely intent on preserving its ‘right’ to foul the air regardless of the consequences for the American public.”

Added Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Director Frank Clemente, “This is a classic Washington ‘follow the money’ story. When the electric utility industry faced strong government attempts to clean up many of its aging coal-fired power plants, an action that could cost the utilities billions, a few dozen corporations and their trade association began an intensive campaign to derail the effort. Their strategy: help elect an industry-friendly president, fill federal regulatory posts with former utility executives and lobbyists, and hire a small army of lobbyists and lawyers connected to the new president to engineer regulatory changes that would undermine the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Air Act enforcement cases and weaken rules that already were in the pipeline.”

Other highlights of the new EIP/Public Citizen report include the following:

  • Top polluters identified.The study ranks the top 50 power plants for each of three pollutant categories – mercury, sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide.According to the report, the three worst polluters in terms of SO2 are: Bowen (Georgia); W.H. Sammis (Ohio); and Keystone (Pennsylvania).The three worst polluters in terms of CO2 are:Martin Lake (Texas); Scherer (Georgia); and Bowen (Georgia). The three worst polluters for mercury are:Keystone (Pennsyvlania); Mount Storm (West Virginia); and Monticello (Texas). Of this group, only one – Mount Storm, operated by Dominion Electric – has agreed to a comprehensive clean up of its pollution, particularly sulfur dioxide.


  • Key campaign contributors identified.The study looked at the 89 plants that comprise the three top 50 lists and found that the majority of the plants were owned by 30 corporations. Those utility companies and their trade association engaged in an intense fundraising campaign that netted $6.6 million for Bush and the RNC since 1999. They also produced 10 Bush Rangers and Pioneers who have between them raised at least $1.5 million.


  • Key pollution indicators are up. The EPA’s recently released 2003 emissions data show that power plant SO2 emissions increased by more than 400,000 tons between 2002 and 2003, rising from 10.19 million tons to 10.59 million tons, or 3.9 percent.Carbon dioxide emissions increased by roughly 47 million tons during the same period, from 2.425 billion tons in 2002, to 2.472 billion tons in 2003, a 2 percent increase.Nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants declined 5.6 percent, dropping from 4.36 million to 4.12 million tons.


  • Over half of major polluters have been in hot water.Of the 89 plants that made it onto one or more of the dirtiest plant lists, 47 – well over half – either have been sued or placed under investigation by the EPA for violating the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review requirement.Of the top 50 SO2 emitters, 18 plants have been brought to court and another 11 were placed under investigation by the government.In August 2003, the EPA relaxed the rules for New Source Review – exempting many facilities from the law’s permit and pollution control requirements – only to have a court stay the rules.Nonetheless, the result of the administration’s policy, coupled with the program’s current legal limbo, is that many of these companies have either had the cases against them undermined or simply dropped by the Bush administration.


  • Major harm inflicted by pollution. In addition to causing major environmental and property damage from acid rain, sulfur dioxide inflicts a serious health toll in terms of asthma attacks and lung ailments.According to EPA studies, pollution from power plants is linked to heart and lung diseases, which contribute to more than 20,000 premature deaths a year.Mercury is a highly toxic metal that, once released into the atmosphere, settles in lakes and rivers, where it moves up the food chain to humans.In 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that roughly 10 percent of American women carry mercury concentrations at levels considered to put a fetus at risk to neurological damage.


  • Major lobbying clout for polluters. Once President Bush was in office, many of the utilities that had helped to elect him hired lobbying and law firms with Rangers and Pioneers to lobby the government or defend them against the EPA’s pollution lawsuits. The 30 big companies on the three dirtiest plants lists hired at least 16 firms that between them have 23 different Rangers and Pioneers who raised at least $3.4 million for Bush’s campaigns. Their firms, together with the trade association for most coal-fired electric utility corporations (whose president is himself a Pioneer for 2000 and 2004), met with Cheney’s national energy task force at least 17 times to help formulate the country’s energy and pollution policies.The recommendations of that task force led directly to EPA’s reassessment and rewriting of the Clean Air Act rule that the utilities had been accused of violating.


  • Influence inside the administration.After raising millions of dollars for his election in 2000, many of Bush’s biggest utility contributors were invited to join various transition teams, the committees that nominated officials to serve in the new administration. The 30 big utilities on the three dirtiest plants lists had four officials appointed to the Energy Department transition team. The new administration contained five of the industry’s former executives or lobbyists, who were given senior positions where they were responsible for formulating or enforcing clean air policies. And once a controversial rewrite of air policy was finalized in late 2003, two officials left the EPA and were immediately hired by electric utilities or lobbying firms that represented them.


Founded by Eric Schaeffer, the Environmental Integrity Project (http://www.enviromentalintegrity.org) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established in March 2002 to advocate for more effective enforcement of environmental laws. Schaeffer directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Regulatory Enforcement until 2002, when he resigned after publicly expressing his frustration with efforts of the Bush administration to weaken enforcement of the Clean Air Act and other laws.

Public Citizen is a national, nonpartisan and nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, which operates the www.WhiteHouseForSale.orgWeb site, analyzes the influence of money in politics, among other things.


NOTE:   A streaming audio recording of a related news event will be available on the Web as of 3 p.m. EDT on May 5, 2004, at http://www.environmentalintegrity.org/.