Statement of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton
Hearing to Assess the Impact that Pollution from Transportation Sources has on Public Health and the Environment
Committee on Environment and Public Works
Thursday, July 26, 2001
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you for holding today’s hearing to assess the impact that pollution from transportation sources has on public health and the environment.
Before I continue, I just want to say how pleased I am by the press reports this morning that Governor Whitman has decided to move forward with the full clean up plan for the Hudson River that was originally proposed this past December. We don’t have all of the details yet, but this appears to be a significant environmental victory, not just for New York and New Jersey, but for communities around the country that are plagued by contaminated sediments. I know that this is not a final decision – that this is still in a review process and that the decision won’t be officially announced until September – but this is welcome news.
Having said that, I would like to welcome all of today’s witnesses. In particular, I am pleased to welcome Mr. Omar Freilla from the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance. Omar, thank you for being with us today. And thank you for everything you do to improve air quality for New York City residents, and to address environmental justice issues in general in New York City.
I understand that you are working on a very exciting project at the Hunts Point Market. Unfortunately, due to business in the HELP Committee that requires my attendance, I may not be able to be here for your testimony, but I will review your statement, and I urge all of my colleagues on the Committee to review it as well.
You know, we are a culture that is constantly on the move. We travel to and from work, to and from school, to and from the store. When we go to the store, we expect to find the products we want -- products that are transported from near and far -- by truck, by rail, by container ship, by plane. We are building buildings, and farming farms.
Yet we often don’t think about how all of these activities can have an impact on our ability to breath clean air – which you could say is probably one of our most important activities of all.
In 1970, Congress amended the Clean Air Act to address pollution from the transportation sector, and we have benefited from the results. We have cleaner fuels. Removing lead from gasoline has reduced lead levels in the atmosphere -- and in our children’s blood -- dramatically. And we have cleaner cars. Cars are up to 95 percent cleaner than they were 30 years ago, and there are rules on the books to make cars, trucks and buses even cleaner in the years to come. And it is critical that we resist any efforts to delay or rollback these new standards.
Yet even with these improvements, transportation activities still account for more than three-fourths of the nation’s carbon monoxide emissions, more than half of the nation’s nitrogen oxides emissions, and more than two-fifths of the nation’s emissions of volatile organic compounds – or VOCs.
Both nitrogen oxides and VOCs contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone or smog, which can aggravate asthma and other respiratory illnesses, and has even been shown to contribute to heart attacks. So far this year, we have had 27 bad air quality days in New York State caused by high ozone levels.
We all know how it feels to get caught in that thick cloud of smoke that comes out of the back of many buses and trucks. I know my reaction is to close my mouth and try not to breathe. What many people don’t know is that this diesel exhaust is classified as a likely carcinogen by the EPA.
Earlier this year, the Natural Resources Defense Council released a report showing that children who ride to school in a diesel school bus are exposed to excess exhaust on the bus at levels 23 to 46 times higher than those levels already considered to be a significant cancer risk by EPA. I know that many of these same school buses sit and idle outside of schools, further exposing our children and the surrounding community to these harmful emissions.
Overall, the transportation sector emitted approximately 2.3 million tons of air toxics in 1996, including benzene, toluene, benzopyrene, and 18 other compounds known or suspected to cause cancer, birth and developmental defects, and other adverse health effects.
What all of this tells me is that while we may be making progress, there is still more to be done. Omar’s project at the Hunts Point Market is one example of how we can make further progress – and we will here more about that later.
Another example of how we can make progress is the Central New York Regional Transportation Authority (CNYRTA), which is in the midst of an aggressive campaign to replace its aging bus fleet with a fleet largely comprised of clean, compressed natural gas buses. By converting to these cleaner buses, CNYTRA will significantly improve the metropolitan Syracuse area's air quality.
I am pleased that in the transportation appropriations bill that is currently pending on the Senate floor, Senator Schumer and I were able to get another $4 million to help with this effort. With this appropriation, CNYRTA will be able to achieve an 84 percent conversion of its fleet to compressed natural gas.
But even as we move to cleaner cars, trucks and buses, the shear number of vehicles on the road continues to grow – which counteracts the progress we are making. The overall number of cars on the road has more than doubled since 1970. In New York State today, there are over 10 million cars, trucks, and buses on the road according to DMV estimates.
We need to recognize that our efforts to improve our air quality and protect public health and the environment will be met with constant challenges.
Fortunately, new technologies will help us meet these challenges.
In New York, we are home to companies that are on the cutting-edge of technology – companies such as Corning Incorporated in Corning, NY, and Air Flow Catalyst Systems in Rochester. These companies are manufacturing emission control equipment – equipment that can be used to retrofit existing vehicles and make them dramatically cleaner.
Companies like these are leading the way and demonstrating that investments in cleaner, more efficient technologies can help our economy, as well as our environment. But, it is the responsibility of government to foster the development of these cutting-edge technologies. We can accomplish this by providing regulatory certainty for industry, combined with appropriate incentives.
Another reason that it is so important that we continue to make progress in this area is the issue of global warming.
The transportation sector currently contributes one-third of all carbon dioxide emissions – a number that will continue to grow unless we take action. Just this week, the National Academy of Sciences reported that automobile manufacturers have the technology to make sport-utility vehicles and light trucks more fuel efficient, and therefore less polluting.
According to the NAS, “There are. . . other reasons for the nation to consider policy interventions of some sort to increase fuel economy. The most important of these, the committee believes, is concern about the accumulation in the atmosphere of so-called greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide. Continued increases in carbon dioxide emissions are likely to further global warming.”
So we have a lot of ground to cover. I hope that this hearing will help lay the ground work for future Committee efforts, whether it’s addressing the MTBE issue, or issues that we may want to try and address in the Transportation bill.
Again, I would like to thank the Chairman for holding this hearing. I look forward to continuing to work with him and my other colleagues on the Committee to find ways to improve our nation’s air quality and protect human health in a common sense and cost-effective manner.