Testimony of Howard Dean, M.D.
Governor, State of Vermont
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Hearing
On Multi-Pollutant Legislation (S.556)
November 15, 2001
Thank you Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee for this opportunity to share my thoughts regarding multi-pollutant legislation. I would like to applaud members of Congress, especially the Chairman and Ranking Member, for their leadership in tackling this issue of great importance for public health, the environment, and the economy of Vermont, other states in the Northeast and elsewhere. This is a good bill, and I appreciate the opportunity to speak about why the goals to be achieved through the bill are so important.
While we have made great strides reducing air pollution since Congress enacted the Clean Air Act of 1970, much remains to be done. Power plants remain one of the largest sources of air pollution in the country. Electric utilities account for approximately one-third of all man-made emissions of mercury and particulate matter in our nation, one-third of all emissions of nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide, and nearly three-quarters of all U.S. emissions of sulfur dioxide.
As a doctor, I am particularly concerned about the fact that many areas of our nation still violate the health-based 1-hour standard for ozone and that many more will violate the new 8-hour ozone standard. This is occurring at the same time that a growing body of scientific evidence clearly demonstrates the many and varied adverse health effects associated with exposure to fine particle air pollution. Similarly, the long-term consequences of a continued buildup of toxic metals in the environment also represent a demonstrable health threat. For example, the threat posed by mercury deposition to pregnant women and their babies is both serious and preventable. In recognition of this threat the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers have embarked on an aggressive campaign to dramatically cut mercury emissions in our region. Our ultimate goal is the virtual elimination of manmade mercury emissions.
Like public health, the environment also remains at risk from air pollution. Despite significant progress under the federal Acid Rain Program, forests and aquatic ecosystems throughout much of the Northeast continue to suffer damage from acid rain. Recent findings from the Hubbard Brook Research Forest, the nation=s oldest acid rain research effort, and parallel studies conducted by researchers in Vermont and other regions of the United States and Canada, demonstrate that we have a great deal of work left to do. Fifteen percent of the lakes in New England and over 40 percent of Adirondack lakes are either chronically or seasonally acidic. These conditions negatively affect fish and other aquatic life. Nearly one-quarter of Adirondack lakes surveyed in one study no longer support fish. In Vermont, 35 lakes have been deemed sensitive and impaired by acidification. On Camels Hump, one of Vermont=s tallest peaks and the state symbol engraved on the new Vermont state quarter, researchers have studied the impact of acid rain for decades. Here, the red spruce canopy has been extensively damaged, and new growth red spruce is showing signs of acidic damage. Power plants are also the primary cause of regional haze, which reduces average visibility in the Northeast to only about one-third of the visual range typical of natural conditions.
It is essential that your deliberations result in defining Amulti-pollutant@ as a minimum of four pollutants. Climate-altering gases such as carbon dioxide represent a significant long-term global threat. The possible impact of global climate change include widespread coastal flooding, immense changes in habitat for plants and animals, an increase in weather-related natural disasters, and, in Vermont, possible crippling impacts to our ski areas and maple sugar industry -- potential devastating blows to our state=s economy and culture. Scientifically and politically, it is clear that climate change is an issue that will not go away. As a nation, it is important that we both hold the line against future emissions increases and begin to actually decrease our contribution to the global burden of climate-changing pollutants. The New England Governors and Eastern Canadian premiers expect to achieve reduction in greenhouse gases to 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. This bi-national regional plan adopted by the Governors and Premiers in August of this year, further established a long-term goal of achieving reductions of 75 to 85 percent below current levels to eliminate any dangerous threat to the climate. I have attached a copy of the adopted plan for your consideration.
One way Vermont intends to meet its obligations under the bi-national regional climate action plan, and at the same time address energy issues in Vermont, is through my recently unveiled long-term energy initiative for Vermont. That plan promises to help Vermont meet its future electric energy needs by developing a clean, reliable and renewable energy infrastructure. In recent debates over national energy policy, some have questioned whether renewable generation, conservation and small-scale power can meet future electric power needs. Analysis of Vermont=s particular needs and opportunities shows that renewable forms of energy, together with wise and efficient energy use do have the potential to meet our future demand B at low cost to consumers.
Our initiative addresses issues that will be pressing on Vermont in the coming years. Although New England does not face an energy supply crisis right now, we have recognized for some time that increasing electric demand in Vermont will eventually require expanding supply. At the same time, Vermont utilities serve more than two-thirds of the state=s electric demand with power from two electric energy sources: Hydro Quebec and the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. Both of these sources of energy are non-carbon based, however, both are time-limited and face uncertain futures. Not only are these sources of power both renewable and not carbon based, both are provided through long-term contracts, which provide power stability and cost certainty to consumers.
New England as a whole is addressing its growth through the construction of large-scale natural gas-fired plants, with advanced air pollution control systems, concentrated in the high demand areas of southern New England. These plants are less carbon intensive than other thermal generation plants and they will protect the region from shortages resulting from lack of capacity B and from the kinds of consequences we saw in California. I am not convinced however that reliance on one fuel source makes sense for a variety of reasons, not least of which are possibilities of price spikes and supply disruptions. Consumers do not benefit from a speculative, single fuel approach to supplying power.
In addition to these issues of supply, Vermonters have long placed a priority on environmental quality. Thus any solutions to Vermont=s future power needs must take into account the large impact of electric generation on environmental quality, both at home and nationally.
For these reasons I have made a commitment to meet increased electric consumption in Vermont by developing three Vermont-based alternatives to large-scale generation or purchased power. First, developing new sources of renewable energy. Second, expanding Vermont=s already successful energy conservation efforts. And third, fostering small-scale, clean and efficient generation, particularly advanced technology combined heat and power projects at Vermont businesses and institutions.
I will ask our legislature to appropriate funds this year for renewable energy incentives. These funds represent a step in a period of public support that is needed so the market for renewable resources can ultimately stand on its own. Policy initiatives such as a Renewable Portfolio Standard (a requirement that utilities include at least a threshold amount of renewables in their supply mix) will aid in moving from a period of subsidy to a fully functioning market that no longer requires public subsidy.
The economic costs of our initiative may well be less than the cost of energy purchased in the market. When environmental and local economic benefits are taken into account, the economic analysis becomes even more favorable. For example, individuals and businesses participating in efficiency programs in Vermont have done so at a cost of approximately 2.6 cents per kilowatt-hour at a time when wholesale electricity supply costs about 5.2 cents per kilowatt-hour. And the carbon dioxide emissions avoided by these efficiencies equals taking 2,100 cars off the road.
Realizing this achievable vision strengthens our state and our country through diversification of our energy resources, significant economic benefits, and a reduction in the environmental consequences associated with meeting our electric power needs.
Given that the Northeast is downwind from the rest of the nation, pollutants from many of our nation=s most industrialized regions find their way to our corner of the country. Therefore, effective national legislation is essential to adequately protect the health of citizens and our environment.
For all of these reasons, Vermont strongly supports the Committee=s efforts to draft comprehensive, meaningful legislation to reduce power sector emissions of NOx, SO2, mercury and carbon. Only a comprehensive approach addressing all four pollutants can give industry the investment and planning certainty it needs, while ensuring a reliable electricity supply and promoting a smooth transition to the mix of resources and technologies needed to sustain environmental progress and improve public health despite continued demand growth.
Control programs for other pollutants, if they result only in the addition of smokestack controls will not achieve the needed reductions in CO2 emissions. Any program that excludes carbon cannot, at this point, provide industry with meaningful longer-term investment certainty they need, nor will it provide impetus for the new generation of renewable and advanced technologies that are needed in a carbon-constrained world.
I believe that setting a cap on the amount of a pollutant that may be emitted and allowing trading of emissions between polluters as a means of controlling power plant emissions can have merit. Any so-called Acap and trade@ program however cannot be a Agimmick.@ It must be meaningful. In my view a meaningful program would provide a stringent cap, utilize market forces to achieve reductions, be based upon an open process and an informed public, include strong emission tracking and data reporting mechanisms, and be subject to strict compliance oversight and significant penalties in the face of noncompliance. To keep such a program relevant over time it would need to contain a review and revise provision to push the cap downward. This could be accomplished by authorizing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to adopt rules.
I also believe it critical to include in a multi-pollutant power plant bill some of the fundamental cornerstone provisions of the Clean Air Act, such as requirements for the best available emission control technology on new sources. This particular provision carries out the adopted philosophy of Congress Awhen building new, build clean.@ This policy has served the nation well since incorporated into the Clean Air Act of 1977 and must be upheld.
It is absolutely essential to establish an emissions cap that requires deep reductions in the emissions of all four pollutants from the large number of grandfathered power plants that continue to operate in this country. These grandfathered power plants account for more than two-thirds of the carbon dioxide, three-quarters of the nitrogen oxides and mercury, and 80 percent of the sulfur dioxide emitted by all fossil fuel-burning utilities in the United States today. There is no compelling reason to continue exempting high-emitting power plants from applying proven control technology. I urge you to correct the faulty assumptions of the 1970 Clean Air Act that these plants would be retired by now and remove the exemptions that continue to allow these facilities to spew massive amounts of pollutants into the atmosphere B and ultimately into the lungs of our citizens. The time has come for these facilities to upgrade to current standards or close.
In crafting a national policy for controlling power plant emissions, it is important that Congress remember that for every measure of pollution reduction there is a benefit to society. This notion is embodied in the Bi-National Toxic Strategy, which our government has entered into with Canada. This agreement states that for some pollutants the goal must be Athe virtual elimination of the contaminant.@ Power plant emissions contribute to many of the major environmental issues before us: mercury, fine particulate matter, global climate change, ozone pollution and regional haze. To address these threats to our environment and health, we must have a sound goal and sound policy direction. Virtual elimination is the right goal B a long-term goal B and new technologies and renewable sources of energy will provide the solutions for achieving this goal.
I appreciate very much the work of this Committee on this issue, I support this bill and I thank you again for this opportunity to speak with you.