Don’t hold your breath for cleaner air

Last Friday the Environmental Protection Agency quietly issued a statement about relaxed protocols for the Clean Air Act. This statement went unnoticed by most Americans, even though it has the potential to undermine one of the most important environmental laws that currently exist and change the quality of the one thing we all use: the air we breathe. This is hardly an acceptable change, as air pollution is already a hazard in areas such as Tampa Bay.

The changed policy was quite capably released without much fanfare, allowing coal-burning electric power plants such as Big Bend, the main source for power in the Tampa area, and refineries to renovate their systems without installing new air filters and other anti-pollution measures that would have been required under the old requirements.

This change effectively allows some of the biggest polluters in the nation to continue emitting pollutants into the air. Under the old guidelines, these polluters would originally be phased out. Now, they can continue operating indefinitely.

The change came directly from the White House, which, according to the St. Petersburg Times, managed to “convince EPA to add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones.”

This is not the first time that the White House has actively pursued a change in EPA regulations, as a report about global warming was heavily edited by the Bush administration in June. The report originally contained passages that clearly stated global warming was a proven phenomenon and that countermeasures have to be taken.These passages were cut. Another recent action was by Gov. Jeb Bush, who extended the timeframe given for industries emitting large quantities of pollutants into the Everglades National Park to lower their emission by another ten years.

Such practices are unacceptable. The U. S. Government has a duty to ensure the well-being of the people it represents. This cannot be achieved if economic gains are put above the well-being of many or the very existence of entire ecosystems, such as the Everglades.

It is also very distressing that the EPA has lost much of its credibility and effectiveness through such actions. Under the new management of Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt, incidentally hand-picked by President George W. Bush himself, this trend does not seem to reverse in the near future.

Of course things could change completely for the better, but we shouldn’t hold our breath. If the White House continues to have its way with environmental policies, we may have to, though.