TESTIMONY OF MARY D. NICHOLS
ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR
FOR AIR AND RADIATION
U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON CLEAN AIR, WETLANDS, PRIVATE PROPERTY, AND NUCLEAR SAFETY
COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKSUNITED STATES SENATE
April 24, 1997

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for inviting me to discuss the implementation efforts associated with the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) proposed revisions to the national ambient air quality standards for particulate matter and ozone.

For 26 years, the Clean Air Act has promised American adults and American children that they will be protected from the harmful effects of dirty air -- based on best available science. Thus far, when you consider how the country has grown since the Act was first passed, it has been a tremendous success. Since 1970, while the U.S. population is up 28 percent, vehicle miles traveled are up 116 percent and the gross domestic product has expanded by 99 percent, emissions of the six major pollutants or their precursors have dropped by 29 percent.

The Clinton Administration views protecting public health and the environment as one of its highest priorities. We have prided ourselves on protecting the most vulnerable among us -- especially our children -- from the harmful effects of pollution. When it comes to the Clean Air Act, we take very seriously the responsibility the Congress gave us to set air quality standards that "protect public health with an adequate margin of safety" -- based on the best science available.

The Clean Air Act requires EPA every five years to review national ambient air quality standards and, if necessary, revise them to reflect the best available science. This standard-setting process includes extensive scientific peer review from experts outside of EPA and the federal government. After three-and-a-half years of scientific peer review and public involvement, based on our reading of the best available science, the Administrator has proposed new standards for particulate matter and ozone that we believe are required to protect the health of the American people.

As you know, at this point we have only proposed revisions to the standards for these two pollutants. We take very seriously our obligation to carefully consider all public comments on these proposals before making a final decision. We have heard from small businesses, industry, state and local governments, federal agencies, and other citizens like the elderly, children, doctors and people with asthma. While we have proposed specific levels for each pollutant, we have also asked for comment on a wide range of alternative options. We do not intend to make a final decision until we have carefully considered comments on all of those alternative options.

Throughout the history of the Clean Air Act, national ambient air quality standards have been established based on an assessment of the science concerning the effects of air pollution on public health and welfare. Costs of meeting the standards and related factors have never been considered in setting the national ambient air quality standards themselves. This has been the case through six Presidential administrations and 14 Congresses, and has been reviewed by the courts. We believe this approach is appropriate.

In choosing proposed levels for the ozone and particulate matter standards, EPA's focus has been entirely on health, risk, exposure and damage to the environment. Sensitive populations like children, the elderly and asthmatics deserve to be protected from the harmful effects of air pollution. And the American public deserves to know whether the air in its cities and counties is safe or not; that question should never be confused with the separate issues of how long it may take or how much it may cost to reduce pollution to safe levels. Indeed, to allow costs and related factors to influence the determination of what levels protect public health would be to mislead the American public in a very fundamental way.

However, once we revise any air quality standard, it is both appropriate and, indeed, critical that we work with states, local governments, industry, federal agencies, and others to develop the most cost-effective, common-sense strategies and programs possible to meet those new health standards. Under the Clean Air Act, states have primary responsibility for devising and enforcing implementation plans to meet the national air quality standards. We are determined to work with states and others to ensure a smooth transition from efforts to implement the current standards with efforts to implement any new standards. And we have been actively working to do just that.

By 1995 it became apparent from the emerging body of science that we may have to propose revisions to one or both of the ozone or particulate matter national ambient air quality standards, as well as fulfill our obligations on developing a regional haze program. At that time we determined that the best way to meet the goal of developing common-sense implementation strategies was to bring in experts from around the Nation to provide us their advice and insights. As a result, we used the Federal Advisory Committee Act to establish a Subcommittee for Ozone, Particulate Matter and Regional Haze Implementation Programs. John Seitz, Director of my Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, co-chairs that Subcommittee, along with Alan Krupnick from Resources for the Future, Inc.. The Subcommittee is composed of about seventy-five representatives from state and local government, industry, small business, environmental groups, other federal agencies and other groups. It also includes five working groups comprised of another 100 or so members of these same kinds of organizations.

The Subcommittee and the various workgroups have been meeting regularly for over 18 months to hammer out strategies for EPA and the states to consider in implementing any revised standards. Members from industry, state governments and others are putting forward position papers advocating innovative ways to meet air quality standards. It is our belief that results from this Subcommittee process are leading to innovative approaches for implementing any new standards. The Subcommittee will continue to meet over the next year to help develop cost-effective, common-sense implementation programs.

The questions being addressed by the Subcommittee include:

What will be the new deadlines for meeting any new standards? [If EPA tightens a standard, it has the authority to establish deadlines of up to ten years -- with the possibility of two additional one-year extensions -- beyond the date an area is designated "nonattainment."]

What will be the size of the area considered "nonattainment"? [If it revises an air quality standard, EPA has the ability to establish the size of the affected nonattainment areas and focus control efforts on those areas that are causing the pollution problems, not just the downwind areas that are monitoring unhealthy air.]

How do we address the problem of the pollutants that form ozone and/or fine particles being transported hundreds of miles and contributing to nonattainment problems in downwind areas?

What kinds of control strategies are appropriate for various nonattainment areas? Can we use the experience of the past several years to help states target those control strategies that are the most cost-effective?

How can we promote innovative, market-based air pollution control strategies?

The implementation of revised standards is likely to focus on sources like cars, trucks, buses, power plants and cleaner fuels. In some areas, as with the current standards, our analysis shows that reaching the standards will present substantial challenges. All of the air pollution control programs we are pursuing to meet the current ozone and particulate matter standards, as well as certain programs to implement other sections of the Clean Air Act, will help meet any revised standards. For example, the sulfur dioxide reductions achieved by the acid rain program will greatly reduce levels of fine particles, particularly in the eastern United States. Cleaner technology in power plants would also greatly reduce the nitrogen oxides that help form ozone across the eastern United States.

In announcing the proposed ozone and particulate matter standards last November, we initiated steps to obtain even broader views from stakeholders on implementation strategies. We expanded the membership of the Federal Advisory Subcommittee to include more representation from small business and local governments. Also, in conjunction with the Small Business Administration and the Office of Management and Budget, we are holding meetings with representatives of small businesses and local governments to obtain their input and views on how best to implement our proposed standards.

We intend to announce our proposals on implementation of the proposed new standards in phases that correspond to the Subcommittee's schedule for deliberating on various aspects of the program. The Administrator has stated her intention to propose the first phase of the implementation program at the same time that we announce our final decision on revisions to the ozone and particulate matter standards.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my written statement. I will be happy to answer any questions that you might have.