Jeffords, Leahy Critical of New EPA Clean Air Rules

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(Host) Vermont’s two U.S. senators are criticizing the Bush administration’s plans to relax air pollution requirements for older power plants.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Thursday announced rules that will make it easier for utilities to expand their coal-burning generators. Senator James Jeffords says the EPA decision takes the environment in the wrong direction. He calls the move the biggest rollback of the Clean Air Act in history:

(Jeffords) "Well, certainly if it goes through it would hamper and would be a serious blow to our attempts to reduce the very serious problems caused by the coal plants. It’s hard for me to believe what they tell me they’re doing. So I’m shocked by it and we’re going to do everything we can to try and make sure it doesn’t happen."

(Host) Senator Jeffords and Senator Patrick Leahy say they will investigate how the EPA made the decision and whether the power industry influenced the outcome.

Jeffords says he’ll use his committee’s subpoena power to get witnesses and documents. Jeffords chairs the Senate Environment Committee, and Leahy is chairman of the Judiciary Committee. The two senators plan to hold a joint hearing.

According to Jeffords, easing the pollution rules may make electricity cheaper. But he says it would come at a heavy cost:

(Jeffords) "The more smoke you put up, the less it costs. That’s accurate. But there’s a little thing called public health that should intervene here. And there’s serious problems with asthma and all sorts of diseases caused by pollution. The latest studies that have come out on that have seen … substantial increases in the problem, especially in New Jersey and the areas that get most of the smoke. And we should be concerned about the health more than the additional cost."

(Host) Besides the public health issue, air pollution from coal power plants is also blamed for the acid rain that has damaged lakes and forests in the Northeast. Vermont and other states have sued power companies in an attempt to reduce pollution from the Midwestern utilities.

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