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Clean Air Act

“School’s out for summer!”

When I was growing up, Alice Cooper’s 1972 hit usually infiltrated my head sometime around the beginning of May, looped incessantly, and hit a feverish crescendo in the few minutes before the final bell released us to summer break. Now, many years later, a very different line completes the couplet in my head.

“Ozone is a bummer!”

That coal- and oil-fired power plants are big air polluters is beyond question—they emit hundreds of thousands of tons of hazardous air pollution (mercury, lead, acid gases, e.g.), far more than any other industrial polluter. And yet, many in Congress question whether we should do anything about this major threat to public health. The debate took center stage yesterday in a subcommittee hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

While much has been made of the $535 million loan guarantee made to the failed Solyndra Corporation in 2009 to encourage alternative energy, you may have missed the court decision this week, halting expansion plans for a Kansas coal plant facing similar problems.

The ruling underscores how deadbeat coal plants can be even more costly for taxpayers.

When an environmental organization tells you the age of coal is over, it’s fair to dismiss that as mere wishful thinking.

But when an international economic magazine says the same thing, people sit up and pay attention.

While the cradle-to-grave impacts of coal are well documented, the fact remains that coal still provides 45 percent of the nation’s power. But coal's dominance is decreasing as new sources of power come online and energy efficiency improves.

President Obama won the White House on a platform of hope and change – promising an end to dirty corporate influence over our political system and a beginning to an era in which our energy choices lead us to a clean, sustainable future, or at least don’t kill us or make us sick.

So far, the president’s performance has been mixed – with some deliveries on the promise and some disappointments. His last year, whether in office or in his first term, will be crucial in righting his spotty record and making good on his campaign promises to the American people.

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