Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for convening this hearing today. And I join you in welcoming Administrator Leavitt in his first appearance before us as Administrator.
Mr. Chairman, as I said on the Senate floor last week, it is critical that we rise above partisan politics and take the long-term view in meeting the many foreign and domestic challenges during these difficult times for our nation and the world. The conventional wisdom is that this can’t be done in an election year, but history says differently. In fact, the proximity of an election has induced exactly the kind of bipartisan leadership that produces progress many in times in our history, most recently with passage of welfare reform in 1996.
We need that kind of bipartisan leadership now in tackling our pressing environmental challenges. We can’t wait until after the November elections to clean our air, to purify our water of toxins, or to begin curbing global warming. Our public health, our environment, even our national security are at stake. That is why I am committed to work with you, Administrator Leavitt, in addressing these problems in a bipartisan manner this year – and I appeal to my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to do the same.
The President must take the lead, however – and on the environment he has not, to date. In rolling-back environmental protections and delaying action on key environmental challenges, he has put special interests – and especially the interests of big polluters – before the national interests. Just this weekend, the New York Times ran a front page story detailing the domination of the Bush Administration’s air policy by big energy interests, to the detriment of the public’s health. Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent that the article to which I referred be placed in the record.
I hope your tenure as EPA Administrator, Mr. Leavitt, will chart a different course. Your public comments on air pollution issues signal that you are prepared to lead in a serious, bipartisan way, and I applaud you. The policies emanating from your agency, however, have not reflected this new approach, however – and that I cannot applaud. It is essential that we match the rhetoric of holding polluters accountable with a new reality in strong environmental protections and enforcement.
Let me cite two specific examples. First, I believe that we have fallen far short in our efforts to limit toxic mercury emissions from power plants. There is hardly a more universally acknowledged toxin than mercury. This heavy metal has proven to cause development problems with children – and one in twelve women of child-bearing age have shown dangerous levels of mercury in their blood. Public health agencies in 43 states have issued formal advisories warning people against eating certain species of fish caught from lakes and streams because of mercury contamination. In my state of Connecticut, every single solitary lake and stream has such a warning.
And despite the EPA's claims to the contrary, we know that greater reductions are both technologically and politically possible. In Connecticut, legislators worked with industry and environmental groups to agree on a consensus proposal that would result in an 85 to 90 percent reduction in mercury emissions from all coal plants. That is now the law in Connecticut.
So you can see why I am frustrated to learn that EPA has retreated from its earlier intent to require strict mercury reductions by 2007 and instead has proposed a rule that would require no reductions that would not result without the rule until 2018. We can and must do better.
Second, the challenge of global warming. It is now beyond scientific doubt that humans are causing the warming of the Earth. In last week’s Commerce Committee hearing, witnesses described the devastating effects on coral reefs, wildlife, and Arctic animals and tribes. And as one witness, scientist Gerry Mahlman, put it, “Our burning of fossil fuels is the indisputably direct cause of the ever-increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Our descendants are likely to judge us harshly for our not yet having begun to address this problem meaningfully.”
Yet we continue to do nothing to reduce our ever-increasing greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, the United States’ emissions constitute ¼ of the world’s problem. Just last week, the EPA released preliminary figures revealing that, despite the country’s economic downturn, U.S. emissions rose another 7/10 of a percent from 2001 to 2002. Clearly, our current voluntary approach to emissions reductions is inadequate.
To date, the Bush Administration has opposed the modest proposal put forward by Senator McCain and me to tackle this urgent environmental threat. If the Administration is willing to address this problem in a serious, bipartisan way, I am confident that we can work together to take action and send a signal to the nation’s investors and innovators to develop the long-term solution to our global warming problem.
Administrator Leavitt, in a speech you recently gave, you observed that no one could see society's appetite for environmental improvement as a fad. You are exactly right in that. No one could view what people think about their health and the world they leave their children and grandchildren as a fad. But we need to do more than observe this fact – we must act on it in a meaningful, bipartisan way. I hope we can work together to do so.