Clean Air Villain of the Month

May 2001


(Washington, D.C. May 21, 2001) - We hate to state the obvious, but sometimes it's necessary.

The nonprofit Clean Air Trust today awarded its clean air "Villain of the Month" award for May to Vice President Dick Cheney.

The Vice President earned this dubious distinction by including a provision in his energy plan directing the Attorney General to "review" existing clean-air enforcement cases against big-polluting electric power plants and refineries. This is without a doubt the single worst dirty-air recommendation in the energy plan, which has been subject to detailed critiques in the past few days.

We would like to focus on this provision, because the Vice President appears to be pushing the Attorney General to pardon the polluters -- polluters that have been linked literally to thousands of premature deaths and pollution-related health problems.

The "review" involves lawsuits by the Justice Department against more than a half-dozen major electric utility companies accused of violating the Clean Air Act. These companies stand accused of making major modifications to existing coal-fired power plants without installing modern pollution controls, as required by law. A related enforcement action is pending against at least one major refiner, the Exxon-Mobil Corp.

Given that the Vice President has initiated interference with ongoing judicial proceedings, we're surprised that there hasn't been more of a public outcry. (Imagine if he had announced he was directing the Attorney General to review the legal basis for pending prosecutions against major crack cocaine distributors?)

In two of the pending cases, involving Cinergy Corp. and Virginia Power, the accused companies have announced settlements with the government -- each company said it would spend more than one billion cleanup dollars to settle the prosecution. Obviously, the lawyers for these companies believed the Justice Department had a sound legal basis for the lawsuits, or they would not have advised the companies to settle. And yet Cheney has instructed the Attorney General to "review the existing enforcement ensure that the enforcement actions are consistent with the Clean Air Act and its regulations."

Unfortunately, neither company has actually signed a final consent agreement, and they're not likely to while the Attorney General conducts his "review." Nor will the other big companies accused of violating the law, including American Electric Power and Southern Company.

The EPA has been given 90 days to review the underlying rules, but there is no deadline on how long the Attorney General's review may take.

Under the best of cases, the affected companies will continue spewing hundreds of thousands of tons of harmful pollutants, knowing that the Vice President has given them a blank check to continue to pollute -- and maybe a get-out-of-jail-free card.