U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   07/29/2003
 
Sen. James M. Jeffords, of Vermont
Climate history, science, and mercury emissions

We're here today to discuss two very important topics - climate change and mercury pollution. As most of you know, I am the author of ambitious legislation - the Clean Power Act of 2003 - which addresses these environmental problems, as well as ozone, acid rain, and human health damage from fine particulate matter.

Unfortunately, we aren't here today to talk about moving forward to find innovative solutions to these real world problems. Instead, today's hearing will largely be a mirror or the reverse of the robust and growing consensus in the mainstream scientific community on climate and mercury pollution.

The disappointing result will be more delay. Delay on the part of Congress, and even worse, the ongoing backsliding on the part of the Administration, means that we fail to act responsibly as a society to protect future generations. That means increasingly greater risks of global warming and mercury poisoning.

There is no doubt that the scientific process must inform policy makers as new information comes in. Unfortunately, there is no new information to be found here today that would dissuade us from acting quickly and responsibly to reduce greenhouse gas and mercury emissions. In today's discussion of a literature survey of climate research, the skeptics are trotting out an argument that is several years old and already discarded by their peers.

It is abundantly clear that now is the time to act.

--The National Academy of Sciences has said, "Despite the uncertainties, there is general agreement that the observed warming is real and particularly strong within the past 20 years."

--NOAA currently says that, "The climatic record over the last thousand years clearly shows that global temperatures increased significantly in the 20th Century, and that this warming was likely to have been unprecedented in the last 1200 years."

--EPA's website says that, "There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities."

One would have to be madder than a March hare to fail to see the need to act. Yet, the Administration=s new research plan falls squarely into hare territory - denying the reality staring them in the face.

I want to show you the latest odds on warming. MIT says that there is a one in five chance that the temperature of the earth will warm by approximately 4 or 5 degrees over the course of this century, assuming there is no action to reduce emissions.

As my dear departed friend, Senator John Chafee, said in 1989 - "It is clear that we are facing a serious threat. The scientists are telling us that if we continue to stroll along as if everything is fine, we will transform Earth into a planet that will not be able to support life as we now know it."

While mercury contamination does not have the same dramatic effect on earth=s systems, it is still a dangerous global and local pollutant because it is bio - accumulative and toxic to human health.

Long ago, Congress decided that toxic air emissions should be reduced and took very aggressive steps in 1990 to make that happen, especially if they fall into the Great Lakes and other great waters like Lake Champlain. Unfortunately, the Agency has fallen significantly behind in complying with the Clean Air Act=s schedule. A settlement agreement mandates controlling toxic air pollutants from utilities by 2008.

In 1998, related to the controversy around EPA=s late reports to Congress on utility air toxics, Congress directed the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to recommend an appropriate reference dose for mercury exposure. In 2000, the NAS reported that EPA's reference dose was scientifically sound and adequate to protect most Americans. That NAS review considered all health effects studies, including the Seychelles study that we=ll discuss today.

We know that mercury is a potent toxic. It affects the human brain, spinal cord, kidneys, liver and the heart. It affects the ability to feel, see, taste and move. We know that mercury can affect fetal development, preventing the brain and nervous system from developing normally. Long term exposure to mercury can result in stupor, coma and personality changes.

"Mad as a Hatter" is the phrase that was used in the 1800's to describe the employees of the felt hat industry whose constant exposure to mercury changed their behavior. Fortunately, Americans exposure from commercial and recreational fish consumption is substantially less than that, though dozens of health warnings are posted nationwide.

But, it's crazy for anyone to suggest that we should not reduce mercury emissions significantly, since we know its health effects and we have the technologies to control it.

We should have a hearing on how to export those control technologies and Congress should urge the Administration to negotiate binding global reductions in mercury, as the Senate did last year in the Energy bill for greenhouse gas emissions.

At a minimum, we should pass four-pollutant legislation now that gets reductions faster and deeper than required by the current Clean Air Act. I=m sad to say that there have been no negotiations on that front since I initiated some in early 2002. And the Administration has done nothing to reduce these emissions with its abundant authority in the Act.

We can't afford to leave these problems to future generations to solve. We can=t let our children and grandchildren wake up to find that our delays have cost them dearly in terms of health and the global and local environment. It's time to act responsibly.

Finally, I ask that material from the journal EOS, the NOAA website, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and the American Geophysical Union be included in the hearing record.