I want to welcome Administrator Browner to our hearing, and to commend you for your outstanding leadership at the Environmental Protection Agency. We are all fortunate that you will be staying on in President Clinton's second term.
We are here today to discuss the EPA's proposed rule for ozone and fine particulate matter.
My views on this, Mr. Chairman, are colored by the air that overhangs my state. New Jersey has a real problem with air pollution. In fact, all but two counties already fail to comply with existing standards. New Jerseyans therefore have a special interest in making sure that we do everything possible to improve air quality.
My views on the proposed rule also are shaped by my deep concerns about the serious health consequences of air pollution.
Ozone is a major problem in my state. And there seems to be a strong correlation between high ozone levels and asthma. Emergency room visits for asthma in Central New Jersey occurred 28 percent more frequently when ozone levels were above 60 parts per million. And I would note that 60 parts per million is only half of the current standard.
EPA is proposing to strengthen that standard, and there are sound health reasons to do so. Some critics of EPA's proposal recognize that the present standard is insufficient to protect many of those who work or exercise outdoors. But some of these same critics are resisting tougher standards. Instead, incredibly, they propose that Americans simply spend more time indoors when ozone levels increase.
It's the ostrich approach to air pollution. But it makes no sense for humans.
Let me point out that EPA's proposed rule is supported not only by environmentalists. It's also strongly supported by the largest utility in my state. Like many companies in the Northeast, this utility has invested substantial sums to comply with present ozone rules. Yet its competitors in other states have not. Meanwhile, pollution from those other states regularly drifts into the Northeast. The end result is not only dirty air in New Jersey, but an uneven playing field that puts Northeastern businesses at a significant competitive disadvantage.
I also want to emphasize that as we evaluate EPA's proposed standards, the real question should be whether the proposals are sufficient to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety. The purpose of these standards is to establish the levels above which public health is threatened. They only set a goal. And EPA's proposal would give states time to reach that goal.
The establishment of these goals should be made without regard to the costs of implementation. After all, we're talking about protecting our families and our children from serious health consequences. And who among us is ready to put a price on the life of a child?
Having said that, EPA's proposal does not ignore the financial implications of tougher standards. To the contrary, we can adjust implementation schedules, if compliance is economically impractical.
But the question before us today is not how long those schedules should be. The question is what standard is needed to protect our children. And when it comes to protecting children, in my view, we cannot and must not compromise.
Again, I want to thank Administrator Browner for her leadership, and I look forward to hearing her testimony.