Thank you Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing on a topic of great interest to a great many localities across the nation. A great number of communities that have been fully in compliance with the clean air act are soon to be designated as being in nonattainment with the new, far more stringent standards being implemented.
As an initial observation, I want to reassure the public that this does not mean our nation’s air quality is deteriorating. In fact, the opposite is occurring. As this chart shows, from 1970 to 2002, our Gross Domestic Product and vehicle miles traveled both more than tripled and energy consumption and population increased about 40 percent, yet the pollution in this country was literally cut in half. And that improvement has continued under the helm of President Bush – although national environment groups rarely admit this inconvenient fact.
In the first two years of President Bush’s first term, the two most major pollutants declined dramatically, with nitrogen oxides going down by 13 percent and sulfur dioxide going down by 9 percent – and I suspect that when the data is compiled, they will show further declines last year. And President Bush has proposed legislation that will reduce the utility sector’s emissions of these pollutants by another 70 percent, the biggest emission reduction initiative ever proposed by an American President.
The reason these areas will be designated non-attainment is that new health standards were developed that require lower ambient concentrations of pollution for public health reasons. Whether someone believes these standards have been set too low or too high is irrelevant for purposes of this hearing.
Unfortunately, many of these jobs will be lost unnecessarily. In the mid-90s, I pushed then EPA Administrator to identify and regulate the particles that are the most harmful – known as speciation. Yet Browner utterly failed to take action. And the communities across the country will suffer for it. Fewer jobs would be exported overseas if Browner had focused on harmful particulates and didn’t penalize communities whose emissions may be largely innocuous. I want to make clear to Administrator Leavitt that I remain committed to correcting this flaw and expect EPA to revise its standards to target harmful particles.
The simple fact is that communities will be required to meet these standards and it is important that they do so with the fewest lost jobs possible. And we need to recognize that implementing these standards will cost jobs. Businesses in areas designated as nonattainment face higher costs simply to do business. As Mr. Fisher noted in his written testimony, obtaining an air permits in a nonattaiment areas is so complex, businesses are advised to hire consultants. That may be business as usual for a large company, but it’s a luxury many small businesses simply cannot afford.
With restrictions on existing businesses and the extra burdens new manufacturers would face, these new standards could be a significant factor in whether these areas continue to grow. And could even result in jobs exported overseas.
It is for this reason that these standards be implemented in a rational way. It is critical that areas be given flexibility to meet the standard and that the implementation be coordinated with the expected benefits from other regulatory measures. In that vein, it is critical the designations properly account for the areas of the country that entered into early action compacts to meet their clean air requirements and thus ensure the implementation of the standards avoids yet again introducing uncertainty into the planning process and unnecessary costs.
I want to commend EPA in its proposal for trying to build in some flexibility into the way the act is implemented regarding general nonattainment requirements versus more prescriptive measures.
I look forward to your testimony, Administrator Leavitt.