The nation's big power companies are creating smaller amounts of gases that cause smog and acid rain than they were 15 years ago, but they're producing more greenhouse gases.
That's the conclusion of a joint industry- environmentalist report, released Wednesday, which offers a ray of hope in the battle against global warming.
If the American electric industry can cut its air pollution in response to toughened standards, the reasoning goes, then strict controls on greenhouse gases could do the same.
"What this report shows is that with careful government regulation, companies can lower the pollution coming from power plants smokestacks - and we should be doing this with greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, too," says David Hawkins, climate director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which coauthored the report with Ceres, a national coalition of environmental and investor groups, and Public Service Enterprise Group, a power company.
But that conclusion remains anathema to many within the electric- power industry, who prefer a voluntary approach.
From 1990, when the Clean Air Act was amended, through 2004, the 100 largest electric-power companies cut by 44 percent their emissions of sulfur dioxide, the gas most associated with acid rain. Nitrous oxides, associated with ozone and smog, have fallen by 36 percent in the same period.
However, carbon dioxide emissions - which are not regulated at the federal level - rose 27 percent through 2004. Power plants are the single largest emitters in the US of carbon dioxide, which many scientists say is the primary culprit behind global warming.
Historically, many within the power industry have resisted limits on emissions, fighting government lawsuits over NOX and sulfur dioxide. Similarly, the Bush administration as well as the power industry, have opposed government regulation of carbon dioxide and the international Kyoto treaty that restricts those emissions.
That's left electric power producers as the leading …