TESTIMONY OF DELEGATE LEON G. BILLINGS OF MARYLAND
BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON CLEAN AIR, WETLANDS, PRIVATE PROPERTY AND NUCLEAR SAFETY
SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
Tuesday, April 29, 1997

Mr. Chairman, I am a state legislator with a unique perspective. Not only do I live in the suburbs of the nation's capital, but I spent 15 years on the staff of the United States Senate, 12 of which were as staff director of this Subcommittee when it was chaired by Senator Edmund S. Muskie of Maine.

I represent the legislative district which reaches from the District line several miles into Maryland on both sides of Connecticut Avenue. While it is considered a wealthy district, it is quite economically and ethnically diverse. It has some of the highest incomes in Montgomery County and some of the lowest.

My constituents are very strongly committed to environmental protection. I would hazard a guess that my constituents care at least as much about the Chesapeake Bay as people who depend on a healthy Bay environment for their livelihood. My constituents also care very deeply about the quality of the air we breathe.

As a measure of concern, Mr. Chairman, I would point out that during the entire controversy surrounding Maryland's newly required enhanced motor vehicle inspection program, I did not receive a single communication from any constituent protesting the new dynamometer test. In fact, nearly 50 percent of Montgomery County motorists voluntarily take the dynamometer test. So, perhaps it will not surprise you that I support these new, more strict ambient air quality standards -- as a good representative of my district. I say this because air pollution's victims often are those least able to defend themselves -- the very young, the chronically ill, the elderly. I also support them as a grandfather of four and, because I am now classified as an "older American," I support them for personal reasons.

The State of Maryland has done a great deal to clean up its air pollution. We've had centralized auto emission testing for 17 years and voluntary dynamometer testing for more than 2. Our power plants and factories have made great strides towards reducing emissions as their part of complex plans to achieve current ambient air quality standards.

Many businesses and industries in Maryland believe that they are being required to make extra investments to control pollution because large industrial sources and power plants in Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania are doing too little to control their emissions. These Maryland businesses have argued against further reductions in emissions from Maryland sources until something is done about these big polluters to our west and south.

Thus, for the people of Maryland, these new standards have two important benefits:

1. They will provide additional health protection for our citizens, especially our children and our elders; and

2. They could reduce the burden on Maryland businesses by more fairly allocating the responsibility for cleanup to the large sources -- sources that today are uncontrolled or poorly controlled -- sources whose emissions are transported to us from other states to us.

It is interesting to note that the people who challenge these new standards generally are not scientists but representatives of institutions that pollute. American business and industrial interests simply don't want to pay more money to achieve a greater level of pollution control. But that is nothing new. I began my service to this committee in 1966. Every single environmental proposal this Committee recommended to the Senate, usually unanimously, was met with the charge that it was too expensive.

In 1970, then-Ford executive Lee Iacocca called the Clean Air Act "a threat to the entire American economy and to every person in America." He was wrong, of course. Today's cars are marvels of engineering. And the Big Three automakers recently announced first barter profits totalling more than $4.5 billion.

The rhetoric in today's debate is much the same. What is new is the 271 peer reviewed air pollution health studies EPA evaluated prior to proposing the new standards. What is new is there is so much science to support standards. When the first federal air quality information was published in 1966-67, there was a crescendo of criticism regarding the adequacy of data. Compared to today's information base, those critics were on sound ground.

Mr. Chairman, in this context I would like to make an historical point. I find it ironic that the National Association of Manufacturers and its allies are protesting these new national ambient air quality standards. Prior to 1970, ambient air quality standards were adopted by localities in their air quality control regions based on citizen input and local perceptions of the threat of air pollution. That process proved unacceptable to industry because the standards proposed were often more strict than might be indicated by the federally published air quality criteria documents.

In 1970, the Nixon Administration proposed and Congress adopted national ambient air quality standards. The decision to adopt national ambient air quality standards was widely advocated and supported by the nation's major polluting industries. They were the ones who wanted to use government science as the basis for air quality standards. They were the ones that wanted EPA to adopt the air quality standards. They were the ones who wanted to avoid the proliferation of and often differing air quality standards around the country.

Now EPA is doing the job that business wanted and Congress adopted in 1970. And now NAM and its allies don't like the result so they want to change the rules of the game.

EPA has nearly 30 years of experience and, as many lawsuits have affirmed, it is good at its job.

I would encourage this Committee to tell the NAM and the Citizens for a Sound Economy and the various other groups who have lined up on the anti-clean air bandwagon to quit trying to change the rules that they helped make.

Their opportunity to affect the cost of achieving these standards will come in the implementation phase. We are currently in the information stage. And the American people have a right to know the levels of air pollution which affect their health.

Congress has never compromised this right to know. Congress has on two occasions, 1977 and 1990, provided more time to implement health based standards -- in 1977, up to ten years more; and in 1990, up to twenty years.

But Congress has never bowed to pressure to compromise science. To do so would make a process of public health protection political rather than scientific.

EPA has evaluated the science and proposed its judgment. The appropriate focus for this Committee and the Congress will be to assure a balanced and timely implementation of the standards that recognizes the economic needs and interests of industry and the need that millions of vulnerable Americans have for protection from the impact of smog on their lives.

Congress has been doing that job for 30 years. We have proved that we can have a healthy and growing economy while moderating the health impact of pollution. And we have done so without compromising the public's right to know what healthy air ought to be.

Thank you.