Dispersion: Collusion or Contempt?
Dilution is not the solution to pollution.--An old EPA proverb
IN LATE 1973 and early 1974 the Environmental Protection Agency found itself locked in battle with the White House, the Federal Energy Administration (FEA), and the electric utility industry. The EPA insisted that coal-burning power plants comply with the requirements of the Clean Air Act either by switching to low-sulfur fuel or by installing flue gas desulfurization scrubbers, which the EPA considered available technology. The opponents of this policy claimed that scrubbers were unreliable, that the EPA's policy would lead to very high compliance costs, and that it would discourage substitution of American coal for Middle Eastern oil. They recommended that power plants be allowed to meet national air quality standards by dispersing pollutants more widely, rather than by reducing total emissions. Dispersion can be increased either by building taller smokestacks or by varying emissions according to meteorological conditions. The EPA had two objections to substituting these "dispersion enhancement" techniques for controls that reduce total emissions: they are hard to enforce, and they do nothing to reduce the loading of the atmosphere with sulfur compounds that are harmful to human health and contribute to acid rain.
The Muskie and Rogers committees were even more strongly opposed to use of dispersion enhancement techniques than was the EPA, but the 1973 Arab oil embargo put the EPA and these committees on the defensive on energy-versus-environment issues. In late 1973 the House approved an amendment to pending emergency energy legislation (which eventually became the Energy Supply and Environmental Coordination