Letting polluters breathe easily?

BY CHRIS GIOVINAZZO

Welcome to my bi-weekly column, “Fair, Balanced, and Fair.” I want to be entirely honest that this title is based in part on Fox News’ slogan, which is similar. To respect Fox’s unique trademark and for obvious journalistic reasons, I decided to make my column twice as fair as Fox News.

Many people on campus think of me as liberal. But like Fox News, I plan to surprise readers this year with my fairness and my incredible sense of balance. I have little doubt that by the end of this year, everyone – conservative and liberal alike – will think of this column as a “No Spin Zone.” Or, put another way, I plan to follow a simple, novel journalistic creed: “I report, you decide.”

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To prove how independent-minded I am, I want to spend my first column praising Bush’s recent environmental leadership. No kidding! A little bit of background first. More than half of our electricity and air pollution comes from coal-burning power plants. Back in 1977, Congress figured the dirtiest, most inefficient power plants would go out of service pretty soon. Rather than force the old plants to meet the highest Clean Air Act standards at great cost, Congress only required the best technology for new pollution sources. The old plants were allowed to conduct “routine maintenance,” but if they made any improvements beyond that, they would be required to install the same pollution controls as everyone else.

Well, Congress didn’t realize just how darn sturdy those old plants could be. See, the power companies never did close them. Instead, they just did a really great job “routinely maintaining” them. Okay, sure, maybe they expanded the old plants a little here and there. Okay, well, actually the utilities expanded, upgraded and refurbished the plants repeatedly without ever adding modern pollution controls. Some people didn’t buy the argument that this was all just “routine maintenance” – for example, the silly Clinton-era officials who sued the power companies and the judges who ruled in the government’s favor.

We now know the power companies were right all along. According to Team Bush, any project costing less than 20% of the value of the entire factory is, by definition, “routine maintenance.” Isn’t that a definition that really squares with your common sense notion of “routine maintenance?” For example, take a $25,000 Ford Explorer. Can’t we all agree that spending $5,000 on such a vehicle is pretty routine? For instance, the owner might want to have the alignment checked, buy a new filter and change the oil, say, 85 times. Heck, why not spend another $5,000 next year? That would also be routine.

This regulatory relief will allow the nation’s 17,000 industrial facilities to breathe a little easier. That’s an unfortunate phrase in this case, but you get the point. There have also been some fringe benefits. Right after the ruling, two top EPA staffers landed some pretty sweet new jobs based on their hard work and obvious expertise. John Pemberton, just last week the chief of staff in the EPA’s air and radiation office, joined Southern Co., the nation’s No. 2 power-plant polluter. Ed Krenik, who you may have known as EPA’s associate administrator for congressional affairs, just set up shop at Bracewell & Patterson, a Houston law firm that coordinates utility lobbying. Who says the Bush administration isn’t doing enough to create jobs? There are two new jobs right there!

Now I know what you’re thinking: Hey, wait a minute, isn’t there a bit of an ethical problem when two high-ranking EPA officials help devise a major new regulatory give-away, and then immediately leave the government for high-paying jobs with the companies that were just lobbying for those rule changes? Not to worry. According to an EPA spokeswoman, Pemberton “played a minimal role” on the rule change. For his part, Krenik said he had “nothing to do with writing the rule.”

I mean, surely the Chief of Staff for the EPA’s air division had more important things to do than get involved with a major revision of the Clean Air Act. And what’s wrong with employment mobility? It’s about time the liberal media stopped exaggerating this administration’s corporate connections.

Chris Giovinazzo’s column appears bi-weekly, although his next piece will run next week.

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