Clean Air Villain of the Month

April 2000


(Washington, D.C. April 4, 2000) - The nonprofit Clean Air Trust today awarded its clean air "Villain of the Month" award to Senator George Voinovich (R-OH), who has launched an effort to gut the Clean Air Act on behalf of polluting industries.

Voinovich has announced his intention, along with Sen. John Breaux (D-LA) to introduce legislation that would require a mandatory cost-benefit test before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could adopt health-based clean air standards. The same position has been advanced by polluters for decades in hopes that it would cripple the EPA's ability to establish effective clean-air standards. Ronald Reagan's pro-polluter administration promoted the same controversial position in 1981, but backed down after a public outcry.

It is not a total shock that Voinovich would attempt to cut the heart out of the Clean Air Act. As governor of Ohio, he led efforts in conjunction with big polluters to block EPA from updating health standards for smog and soot in 1997. He asserted that EPA Administrator Carol Browner had not made a sufficiently strong case that tightening the standards would be of great benefit to average citizens. The Cleveland Plain Dealer noted his opposition: "'I read the statement that she made about how this is going to improve public health, da-dah, da-dah, da-dah,' he said dismissively, in an impromptu meeting with reporters." As Ohio's governor, Voinovich vowed he would lead a national effort to require that EPA health standards pass a cost test. His appointees also consistently opposed cleanup of Ohio's dirty coal-fired electric power plants.

Voinovich is quick to race to the defense of Ohio's big polluting power companies, including Columbus-based American Electric Power. Last November, when the U.S. Justice Department sued AEP for failing to install required pollution controls on old power plants, Voinovich branded the action "a continuation of a pattern of harassment by the U.S. EPA against Ohio's utilities and its citizens." (To our knowledge, Voinovich has not commented on a recent study that found Ohio residents face higher chronic smog levels than do residents of many East Coast cities.) A 1997 public opinion survey in Ohio by the Ohio Public Interest Research Group and the Clean Air Trust concluded that Voinovich was "out of touch" with his constituents on the topic of clean air.

Since arriving in Washington, D.C., Voinovich has sometimes been a maverick, to the frustration of Republican Senate leaders -- for example, he recently denounced proposals to repeal part of the federal gasoline tax. However, he has been consistent in his opposition to environmental controls. He scored a miserable 11 percent positive rating from the League of Conservation Voters for his 1999 votes on the environment.

Advocates of strong clean-air controls should not take Voinovich for granted. He is very smart -- and very dangerous. He realizes the health-based clean air standards are the basis for 30 years of progress under the Clean Air Act, and that gelding the standards could stop all of EPA's clean-air programs.

In a joint statement last week with Breaux, Voinovich asserted that "last year, a federal court remanded the new [1997 clean air] standards, ruling that EPA did not use sound science to justify it's [SIC] decision to set pollution measurements." Sounds authoritative, but his assertion is false. No court has ruled EPA's science was unsound. Two judges did put the standards in legal limbo, but only under a bizarre argument that Congress did not have constitutional authority to delegate the standard-setting process to EPA.

Clean-air proponents should be on the watch for similar misstatements as Voinovich steps up his campaign to roll back clean air standards.