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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Coal Suit Derby

Air Date: Week of

Connecticut recently filed the latest in a spate of lawsuits concerning coal plants and air pollution. But commentator Suzanne Elston says that the players in this court-bound drama would do better to focus their energies on reducing pollution in their own backyard.


CURWOOD: Recently the state of Connecticut filed the latest in a string of lawsuits aimed at reducing pollution from coal-fired power plants outside its borders. As commentator Suzanne Elston points out, instead of spending their time suing each other, the jurisdictions involved would do better to follow the example set by New York State.

ELSTON: It's getting to the point where it's hard to figure out who's suing whom. First it was a bunch of coal producers fighting stricter EPA standards. Then the Ontario government joined the EPA in its suit against coal producers. More recently, the New York attorney general's office filed its own lawsuit against a bunch of midwestern power plants. The Justice Department was hot on their heels with a suit of its own. Which just about brings us to this latest volley fired by Connecticut.

The problem is, most of the players are so busy suing everyone else for their pollution problems, they're ignoring the ones in their own back yard. Take Ontario. The province jumped on the EPA's bandwagon but failed to recognize its own problems at home. While it's true that 50 percent of Ontario's pollution does come from the U.S., the other 50 percent is home grown. But no Canadian politician ever lost votes blaming their problems on the Americans. So instead of cleaning up their own act, they're putting the blame on somebody else.

Fortunately, there is one bright spark in this hypocritical mess. New York may be trying to get its neighbors to clean up their act, but the state is also enforcing much tougher regulations for its own plants. Last month, Republican Governor George Pataki ordered power plants in New York to substantially reduce smokestack emissions far beyond the national standard. Starting next year, the Clean Air Act will require power plants to reduce their nitrogen oxide emissions by 35 percent. But this will only apply from May to September, when smog is at its worst. The New York regulation calls for the same reductions year-round.

The move will raise electricity rates by one to two percent, but Pataki thinks it is worth it. Not only will the increases be offset by the environmental benefits, but the higher rates will allow new cleaner-burning gas-fired plants to compete with their dirtier cousins. The critics are saying that Pataki's move is motivated by politics, trying to one-up his Democratic attorney general. So what? He's a politician. Politicians should get re-elected for doing the right thing for a change.

So instead of whining and suing all their neighbors, maybe the other players in this court-bound drama should put themselves in a New York state of mind. Take the money that they'd spend on lawyers and invest it in improving air quality. And then we'd all breathe a lot easier.

CURWOOD: Suzanne Elston is a syndicated columnist living in Courtis, Ontario. She comes to us via the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.



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