Statement of Senator James M. Jeffords

Environment and Public Works Committee Hearing on

Clear Skies Legislation

Tuesday, April 8, 2003


As most people here know, I am a sponsor of S. 366, the Clean Power Act of 2003.  This 4-pollutant legislation has 19 other cosponsors, Democrats and Republicans.


Our bill is nearly identical to the one reported by the Committee last year.  Its ambitious deadlines show that we want to reduce emissions of the 4 pollutants quickly to protect human health and the environment.  


The Administration’s plan - Clear Skies - takes a different, much more leisurely approach toward a few of our goals.  This is troubling to me since every moment of delay means more people will die prematurely due to power plant pollution, more acid rain will fall, and more mercury will spew into our lakes and streams threatening children’s health.    


The often-quoted and peer-reviewed study by Abt Associates says that power plant pollution, mainly fine particulate matter, is causing approximately 30,000 premature deaths annually.  That’s happening now and I hope everyone here considers that a crisis.


And yet, the Administration has not acted to regulate sources of this pollution under its broad authority granted by the Clean Air Act. One might even say that the Administration is deregulating these sources through the so-called NSR reforms and increasing pollution.  


If the Administration were to act aggressively under the Clean Air Act’s present authorities, according to the scenario that EPA presented to industry in the fall of 2001, then the bars in yellow on this chart are the kinds of emission levels we would see.  Clearly, these levels are substantially lower than those for the pollutants under Clear Skies.  


If the Administration were to put forward the original EPA “straw proposal” - that was the Agency’s interpretation in 2001 of what levels of reductions are necessary and feasible to protect public health - the numbers would be much lower than Clear Skies, almost down to the yellow levels you see on the chart.


Instead of these two decent options, the Administration has put forward Clear Skies.    Apparently, the only way to make Clear Skies’ levels and timing look good is to assume a “Rip Van Winkle” approach at EPA.  That means that EPA would have to be essentially asleep at the switch for the next decade and not regulate any further.   


We know that is ridiculous at best, given the millions of people who are and will be living in areas with unhealthy air.  Indeed, today’s utility witness lays out the numerous regulations which will require emission reductions from power plants over the next decade and longer.   


And finally, it is whistling past the graveyard for the Administration to continue ignoring the need to control greenhouse gas emissions.  As global warming skeptics have told us, increasing emissions increases the risk of global change.  I ask that a summary of a forum on weather and climate at the National Academy of Sciences be included in the Record. 


Omitting carbon dioxide from a long-term emissions control program that will drive investments makes no sense from a financial or environmental perspective.   As the CEO from Cinergy will tell us and has told us in the past, certainty is important.  The Administration has not provided certainty on carbon.      


In its legislation, the Administration asks Congress to do away with or downgrade the numerous programs that Congress established to protect local and regional air quality and to push control technology forward.   This includes hurting states’ ability to stop interstate pollution, cutting provisions to protect air quality and visibility in National Parks, and delaying air toxics reduction efforts.  


In this legislation, the Administration has asked Congress to extend attainment deadlines beyond current law, so people will breathe unhealthy and smoggy air even longer.  They want us to adopt a host of weak emissions performance standards, even weaker than current practice.  These are supposed to take the place of New Source Review requirements and are unrelated to local air quality needs.


In exchange for all of this deregulation, we will get caps that are not adequate or timely enough to save all the save-able lives and protect the environment.  And these caps will not stimulate the technological development that will allow us to use our vast coal resources safely and effectively.


Obviously, this exchange isn’t acceptable at all to the supporters of my bill and Clear Skies will not become law.  


But, as I have said several times over the last two years, I’m more than happy to collaborate with the Administration and all the interested parties to move comprehensive 4-pollutant or 3.5- pollutant legislation.  It could become law quickly with Administration support.  So far, however, my offer of compromise has been treated with silence or disdain.      


Finally, on an unrelated note, while the Administrator is here, I want to say that I appreciate EPA's efforts to take immediate emergency action at the Elizabeth Mine Superfund site in Vermont to address -- in the Agency's words – “the potential for a slope failure and tailing flood wave” of up to 1 million cubic yards of contaminated mill tailings. 


Elizabeth Mine is one of only seven sites on the National Priorities List that received no funds in Fiscal Year 2002.  Had the Administration fully funded the Superfund program and renewed the Superfund fees, the current emergency could likely have been avoided.  I look forward to working with you and your staff to ensure that we won’t face a similar emergency during next year's spring thaw.