Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and welcome Administrator Leavitt.
Mr. Administrator, one of my best moments since I came to the Senate was the passage of the 1990 Clean Air Act. We worked hard on that bill, during the first Bush Administration, to come up with a bill that worked. The test of that bill is now in its implementation.
We need that kind of bipartisan leadership now in tackling our pressing environmental challenges. No area of the environment requires more attention than air pollution. Thousands of Americans are dying prematurely from the impacts of particulate matter released by power plants. In my home state of Connecticut, a recent study found that over 40 percent of children in inner-city Hartford have been diagnosed with asthma – a disease that has now been linked to air pollution by peer-reviewed studies.
I am glad the Clean Air Act is at work to require progress on these measures. I am concerned, however, that we are not doing enough, quickly enough. The EPA will soon release the color maps showing which areas do not comply with the Clean Air Act – and when it does, I have no doubt that swaths of our country – including the entire state of Connecticut – will be in the black, as in polluted. We must do better.
That Administration’s proposed NOX and SOX rules are a step forward. But I am concerned about the fact that they would cut emissions in two phases – one by 2010, the other by 2015. The reason? Not enough boilermakers to build the pollution control equipment. But in October 2002, the EPA issued a report that there were plenty of workers to build the needed equipment. The phase-in looks more like an unjustified break for polluters than a breakdown in boilermaking.
Another immediate environmental challenge we must confront now is mercury. We have fallen far short in our efforts to limit toxic mercury emissions from power plants. Mercury has been proven to cause development problems with children – and one in twelve women of childbearing 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 because of mercury contamination. In my state of Connecticut, every single lake and stream has such a warning.
Greater mercury 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.
But rather than pushing forward on mercury reductions, the EPA is rolling back. It appears to have retreated from its plans 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. That’s why I was proud today to join 44 of my colleagues in asking the EPA to do just that.
Global warming is a third challenge we cannot procrastinate on. Last week, expert witnesses at a hearing Commerce Committee described the devastating effects from global warming on coral reefs, wildlife, and Arctic animals and tribes. Despite the mounting evidence, we are doing next to nothing to reduce our ever-increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
Senator McCain and I have put forth a practical program to tackle this threat. Where there is a will, there is a way. If we work together to address this problem in a serious, bipartisan way, we can send a powerful signal to the nation’s investors and innovators to develop the long-term solution to our global warming problem.
Finally, I am concerned that the EPA is thinking of backing off on the court-mandated rule to reduce air pollution that hampers visibility in parks – called the BART rule for Best Available Retrofit Technology – in order to allow the Administration’s Interstate Air Quality Rule (IAQR) to go forward. The BART rule was required by the 1977 Clean Air Act, but has not been promulgated due to continuous delay and litigation. It is slated to be released on April 15, but I am fearful that they are continuing putting it into repose until after the IAQR is fully implemented in 2018.
Administrator Leavitt, in a speech you recently gave, you observed that no one should see society's interest in 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. That is the policy and political challenge we must rise to together or we and our children will suffer together. Thank you.