Congressman Dennis Kucinich
Before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
I thank the Committee for the opportunity to testify today regarding the Clean Power Act, S. 556.
This legislation today addresses a fundamental issue of ethics and justice, of how our nation should use natural resources, and how our use of them affects each other and our surroundings. For air, like water or food, is a basic human need. It is a work of mercy to give water to a thirsty person, or give food to a hungry person. It is a work of justice to help a person breathe who cannot get air. Do we not praise the heroism of one who would resuscitate a drowned swimmer, or prevent a child from choking? Why not, then, is ensuring that all of us can breathe easily on a day-to-day basis, and not just in an emergency, subject to debate?
In 1967, Pope Paul VI gave an address, Populorum Progressio, On the Development of Peoples. In that address, he said: “Development cannot be limited to mere economic growth. In order to be authentic, it must be complete: integral, that is, it has to promote the good of every man and of the whole man. As an eminent specialist has very rightly and emphatically declared: ‘We do not believe in separating the economic from the human, nor development from the civilizations in which it exists. What we hold important is man, each man and each group of men, and we even include the whole of humanity.’ ”
As our country moves forward with greater and greater economic prowess, how can we call this development when it witholds a basic human right from many of our citizens? How can we call this development when it makes families poor from health costs, when it debilitates children from filling their lungs, and when it leads to early deaths among the sick and elderly?
I strongly support the Clean Power Act, as do many of my constituents in the Cleveland area for the sake of their health and their environment.
My constituents have good reason to support it. Unfortunately, the Cleveland area suffers from severe air pollution, and two summers ago, had 39 violations of the smog standard in a period of about 60 days. That means that two-thirds of the time during the summer, when people and children are most likely to be outside, they are breathing air that is dirtier than what EPA believes is safe. As result, summer smog in the Midwest triggers 34,000 emergency room visits, 14,700 hospitalizations, and 1.4 million asthma attacks each year.
At these levels, air pollution can have a life-or-death effect, especially on vulnerable populations. A study reported in the Journal of American the American Medical Association (JAMA) this past March proved the association between day-to-day air pollution and the increase risk of lung cancer, cardiopulmonary death, and other adverse health effects. Children will have life-long health problems as a result of air pollution. It will cause senior citizens to suffer premature deaths.
The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 4.8 million children have asthma nationally. A conservative estimate is, that for every child, about $500 per year is spent on mediations, physician care, and hospital treatment, not including other costs, such as school absenteeism, psychological effects and others. Power plant pollution is responsible for over 6,000 premature deaths per year; more than that from auto deaths due to nonuse of seatbelts.
Health costs are a very real part of the discussion of costs and benefits, because they are so enormous, they are impossible to ignore. The medical community is increasingly reporting on public health implications of polluted air and global climate change. Just last month, the Medical Student Journal of the American Medical Association devoted its entire issue to the topic.
IMPACT ON ENERGY SOURCES
· Replacing inefficient coal plants with advanced, highly efficient coal generation.
· Shifting generation from coal to low carbon (natural gas) or no carbon generation (renewable) sources.
· Capture and geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide from fossil power plants.
The fact that there are many options for reducing power sector carbon emissions mean that there is considerable flexibility for meeting a carbon cap, and deep carbon reductions do not require substantial reductions in the use of coal use.
IMPACT ON ENERGY COSTS
The industry also claims that compliance costs will be extraordinary. On the contrary, an October 2001 report by the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed that, under scenarios similar to the Clean Power Act, households would actually save money. As time goes on, they would continue to save even more money. Specifically, the average annual household expenditure would be $40 less in 2010, and $200 less by 2020. Nationwide, consumers would save $27 billion on their electric bills in 2010 if the Clean Power Act were enacted, and save $60 billion by 2020.
I think the answer to today’s hearing, a weighing of the costs and benefits of multi-pollutant legislation, is overwhelming in favor of benefits. Practically, it will mean more efficient use of resources, lower energy costs over the long term, and improvements in public health. As Member of Congress, I think we are also obligated to consider the principles of this legislation. Without acting in favor of multi-pollutant legislation, we allow injustice to continue where increased energy usage results in a disproportionate burden of suffering and costs on the young, the sick, the elderly, and low-income people who cannot afford to move away from polluted areas or for the health care they desperately need. From a principled perspective, it is the responsible, ethical and just policy to support.