Welcome Governor Whitman. I am pleased to have you testify before the committee today on President Bush’s Fiscal Year 2004 budget proposal for the Environmental Protection Agency.
Because the hearing will be well attended and I anticipate enthusiastic rounds of questioning, I will ask that the opening statements be kept short—under 5 minutes—and I will lead by example.
I would like to start by making three over-arching observations, and then broach a few specifics.
My first over-arching observation is that President Bush’s budget for the Environmental Protection Agency stresses results over bureaucratic mandates and processes—cleaner air, cleaner water, cleaner land over more paperwork and more lawsuits
My second observation is that President Bush’s budget harnesses the power of innovation and technology to addresses the nation’s environmental challenges.
The third observation is that President Bush’s budget continues the nation’s strong progress toward a cleaner environment. He has proposed the most aggressive presidential initiative in history to reduce emissions from power plants.
I congratulate this Administration on its environmental record, which demonstrates excellence under all honest scrutiny. However, some systemic problems have existed at EPA virtually since its inception. These systemic problems have been recognized by the General Accounting Office and the Inspector General and the Office of Management and Budget.
Moving into the specifics, I want to thank Administrator Whitman for the most comprehensive EPA report on children’s health to date. Our children’s health is of the utmost concern, and I am pleased that as a direct result of progressive federal initiatives, there have been significant improvements in children’s environmental health.
However, I found the alarming snapshot of information about mercury levels to be vague and potentially misleading. Though the report stated there was “some increased risk of adverse health effects”, it failed to specify how much risk and which women this would impact. Apparently the risks were overstated. As such, it needlessly scared women. I would appreciate clarification of what appears to be ambiguous information.
This is just another example of concerns I have raised in the past regarding the need for the EPA to be responsible with science and provide sound science which is easily explained to the American public. For example, if you listened to CNN yesterday, you would assume that one in twelve women were in serious jeopardy of mercury poisoning. That appears not to be the case.
Along with sound science, I have long been concerned with the topic of achieving the biggest bang for our environmental buck. We need to prioritize our spending to achieve maximum health benefits.
For example, I note that the Office of Management and Budget’s review of the Air Toxics Program at EPA observes, and I quote, “The program has not shown it is maximizing net benefits and proposing the most cost effective regulations.”
I am pleased that in response to this observation an aggressive plan has been devised to help fill data gaps, maximize net benefits, and establish better performance measures. We need to make sure that all regulations are cost-effective.
On the topic of Superfund, I am particularly interested in the effectiveness of the program in no small part because we have the largest Superfund site in the country at Tar Creek in Oklahoma. I am thankful for your help thus far on Tar Creek, Governor Whitman, and I hope look forward to achieving further results with an effective overall approach.
I would hate to see litigation pursued as the answer at Tar Creek because it is something we are working on. We shouldn’t get bogged down in processes that will delay the ultimate cleanup of this site. I want to focus on results--cleaning the soil and, most importantly, bringing down the levels of lead in Oklahoma children.
As Chairman of this committee, I will continue to work closely with you and other federal agencies including the Department of the Interior and the Army Corps of Engineers to ensure that these results are quick in coming.
With that opening and more to come from me in the rounds of questioning, I will turn it over to Senator Jeffords for his opening statement.