Clean Air Villain of the Month

September 2000


Clean Air Trust Challenges NBC News to Examine Parent Company

(Washington, D.C. September 5, 2000) - The nonprofit Clean Air Trust today awarded its clean air "Villain of the Month" award for September to the General Electric Company. The Trust noted GE has not only joined a corporate effort to repeal the heart of the Clean Air Act through the Supreme Court, but is lobbying the U.S. EPA to gut "best available technology" standards for new combined-cycle gas-fired power plants.

The Trust said GE's actions were "very disappointing" given the company's reputation as "The World's Most Respected Company," as it has been termed by the Financial Times. The Trust also challenged NBC News (a GE subsidiary) to examine the parent company's smoke-filled activities.

"GE loves to repeat its slogan -- 'we bring good things to life' -- but it appears that the conglomerate is increasingly interested in bringing bad air to America's breathers," said , the Trust's executive director.

O'Donnell noted that GE hired noted "liberal" constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe of Harvard to file an "amicus" brief with the Supreme Court opposing EPA's clean air standards for smog and soot. Tribe argued, in effect, that the High Court should re-write the Clean Air Act to require that national clean-air standards pass a cost-benefit test.

"Big polluters have tried and failed for more than two decades to convince Congress to adopt such an ill-conceived policy," O'Donnell noted. "It's very disappointing that GE should rent a noted scholar to try to gut the law through the courts rather than debate this issue in the court of public opinion." (It is also disappointing that a scholar of Tribe's reputation would rent himself out for such an unworthy and anti-public interest argument.)

Equally disappointing, O'Donnell said, was a GE "secret lobbying blitz" aimed at eviscerating an EPA program designed to require that new industrial sources of pollution use the "best available" control technology. GE enlisted Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-SC) to lobby the agency to boost sales of GE turbines that don't meet state-of-the-art control standards. (The turbines are manufactured in Greenville, South Carolina.) The GE process was developed with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Following contacts with GE lawyers and Hollings staffers, EPA last month quietly issued "draft guidance" that would exempt the General Electric turbines from pollution controls on smog-forming nitrogen oxides (NOx).

EPA's rationale -- which reportedly has faced stiff resistance even within the agency -- was that even though the GE process would mean more NOx, it would not produce any byproduct ammonia emissions, as would some rival devices. But EPA makes only fleeting reference that there are other, cleaner systems that also would not produce ammonia. The agency does concede that its approach "may seem counterintuitive."

EPA should expect fierce opposition to this regressive policy from environmentalists and the makers of cleaner equipment.