U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   05/08/2003
Sen. James M. Jeffords, of Vermont
Clear Skies Act

Attachment 1 Americans for Clean Air Letter.

Attachment 2 State and Local Conservation Organizations Letter.

Attachment 3 Mercury Emissions Recommendations by NESCAUM.

It is always important that the Committee collect information on the effects of legislation on various sectors of the economy, including energy industries like natural gas.

Of course, however, this Committee’s first and foremost responsibility is to assure that the nation’s laws are protective of public health and the environment. It is our job to set performance standards for industry that are adequately protective and wherever possible, fuel neutral. These standards should not be skewed to protect any one industry, but should encourage sustainable economic development.

The Clear Skies proposal does not fit that criterion. It is, as one analyst put it, “the best-case scenario for coal.” Almost a sweetheart deal. The proposal seems designed to protect 40- or 50-year-old coal-burning power plants from any risk of having to meet modern environmental standards or needs. That is hardly fuel neutral and so does nothing to stimulate the development of methods of burning coal more cleanly and efficiently.

I have grave concerns that Clear Skies will do a much worse job than the current Clean Air Act when fully and faithfully implemented. Clear Skies’ caps are too weak, the deadlines are too late, and state’ authorities are too degraded.

Because of these flaws, the bill would delay attainment in many areas, forcing millions of people to breath unhealthy air longer than the current Act allows. That is an outcome that I’m not willing to accept.

As I have noted in previous hearings, quality and timely information is crucial if we’re ever going to work out a compromise on multi-pollutant legislation that can be supported by this Committee. Unfortunately, such information has been hard to come by from this Administration. I am starting to believe that this is because they are not interested in compromise.

Governor Whitman promised me in February that the information flow would improve, but I’m still waiting on answers to questions from March. Perhaps Mr. McSlarrow can explain today why the Department of Energy has completely failed to provide an NSR document log that it promised on September 25, 2002, would be delivered to the Committee on October 24, 2002.

In addition, at some point very soon, the Administration will have to explain why they are not allowing EPA to run emissions and economic modelling for the Federal Advisory Committee working on the utility MACT rule.

Without objection, I’d like to place in the record NESCAUM’s effort to analyze what EPA won’t.

The Administration’s behavior on this issue makes me think that they don’t want information in the public domain if it might show the mercury caps in Clear Skies are above what is achievable and cost-effective with today’s technologies. This failure to deliver promised information looks like intentional derailing of the utility MACT rule. At the right time, I hope the court enforcing the consent decree will note the Administration’s bad faith on this.

Mercury is a potent air toxic emitted by coal-burning power plants. Emissions must be reduced quickly and deeply. I ask that a letter on mercury from more than 200 state and local conservation organizations and officials be included in the hearing record.

I would also like to place into the record a letter from a coalition of public health and environmental organizations stating their strong support of the current Clean Air Act.

Finally, most projections indicate that new electricity generation will come largely from natural gas for mainly economic reasons. Most of that generation will be for peaking power, and those natural gas facilities that are new baseload will be replacing older inefficient natural gas-fired plants and not replacing coal.

According to the testimony of today’s witnesses and experts in the natural gas industry, there will be plenty of natural gas to meet the projected growth in demand for electricity.

But, if coal wants to expand its market share beyond the current 55% it now enjoys and really grow, then the test is simple:

Produce power that meets the public health and environmental needs of America today and into the future.