In the annals of Bush Administration environmental policy the Clean Air Interstate Rule would have been a rare highlight.
But the rule, which sought to reduce smog and so-called particulate pollution, or soot, across the eastern United States and enjoyed general support from both environmentalists and industry, was struck down unexpectedly by a federal court Friday. The news broke Saturday, when most Americans were outside enjoying the supposedly fresh air.
Both smog and soot cause lung and heart damage, lead to increased rates of hospitalizations and death on hot, sunny days, and are considered a public health threat. Some studies have suggested that even the tighter controls on these pollutants would fail to adequately reduce the risk, particularly as global warming increases the number of hot, sunny days that lead to the formation of smog.
The decision came on the same day the Environmental Protection Agency indicated it would be doing nothing to regulate climate change before President Bush leaves office.
Air pollution that causes soot and smog would have been reduced by as much as 70% by 2025, as power plants learned to live with a new cap-and-trade system for sulfur and nitrogen oxides. (The same kind of cap-and-trade system has been in place since 1990 to reduce acid rain pollution, and while it is widely accepted and praised, industry has fought a cap-and-trade regulation for carbon dioxide.) The judge, though, said the EPA had overstepped its authority, a decision which went beyond even the arguments industry was making in the case (they centered on technical aspects of how to allocate pollution credits).
The Clean Air Interstate Rule stood virtually alone among environmental initiatives that the Bush Administration has embraced. Perhaps his only positive environmental legacy, when it comes to air quality, will be the cleaning up of dirty off-road diesel engines.
In light of the unfolding crisis with the climate, it's hard to imagine that positive step being remembered as much more than a footnote.
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