U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   02/01/2005
 
Statement of James L. Connaughton
Chairman
U.S. Council on Environmental Quality
Legislative Hearing on S.131, the Clear Skies Act of 2005

Mr. Chairman, Senator Jeffords and members of the Committee. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to strongly urge passage of the President’s Clear Skies Initiative. President Bush is dedicated to providing our families and children with a healthier, more economically vibrant and secure future. Important to achieving that future is bringing proven, innovative tools to the task. Clear Skies legislation is just such a tool, and means healthier citizens, stronger communities, more affordable, reliable and secure energy, and more vibrant wildlife habitat across America.

Clear Skies will significantly expand the Clean Air Act’s most innovative and successful program in order to cut power plant pollution of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and, for the first time, mercury by an unprecedented 70 percent in two phases. These cuts in pollution will provide substantial health benefits, prolonging the lives of thousands of Americans annually, and improving the conditions of life for hundreds of thousands of people with asthma, other respiratory illnesses, and heart disease . As the son of a pediatrician who is also a chronic asthmatic, my passion for this policy is deeply personal.

Clear Skies will produce these health benefits with greater certainty by imposing a mandatory, permanent, multi-pollutant cap on emissions from more than 1300 power plants nationwide, reducing pollution by as much as 9 million tons annually at full implementation. Utilities will achieve this by spending more than 52 billion dollars to install, operate and maintain new, primarily clean coal pollution abatement technology on both old and new power plants. Clear Skies will require only a few dozen government officials to operate and will assure compliance through a system that is easy to monitor and easy to enforce.

Accordingly, the Clear Skies cap and trade approach will give our states the most powerful, efficient and proven tool available for meeting our new, tough, health-based air quality standards for fine particles and ozone. At the end of last year, EPA completed the process of informing over 500 counties that they either do not meet or that they contribute to another county not meeting the new standards. That relatively straightforward act has now triggered a very complex process that will lead later this year to a frenzy of intrastate negotiation and conflict, interstate negotiation and conflict, federal-state negotiation and conflict, state and citizen petitions, lawsuits, and heightened uncertainty in energy markets, producing an avoidable and negative impact on local investment, jobs and consumer energy bills. Not a pretty picture.

As a former governor, the President personally experienced and understands the complexities of developing and implementing state plans to meet air quality standards. That is why he places a premium on practical, common sense solutions. Clear Skies, in conjunction with the Bush Administration’s new rules cutting diesel engine pollution by more than 90 percent, provides that solution. Most counties will be able to meet the new standards without having to take any new local measures beyond the Clear Skies power plant reductions. For the relative few that remain, their burden will be substantially lighter and their likely challenges local ones. This simple approach could save governments and the private sector tens of millions of dollars in negotiations, litigating and otherwise inevitable delay in meeting air quality standards.

Clear Skies will also help keep communities together. Up front assurance of meeting air standards will give communities the certainty they need to keep and attract manufacturing jobs in the places where generations of their families currently live, work, play, and pray. The absence of such certainty could exacerbate the breakup of communities experiencing the exodus of industrial jobs to either “greenfields” locations in the United States or, even more consequentially, overseas.

Clear Skies will also make communities stronger economically by helping to keep energy affordable, reliable, and domestically secure for their businesses and homes – particularly important to those least able to afford their energy needs. The market-based trading approach will substantially cut the overall cost of compliance that is passed on to consumers and shareholders. In addition, the specific cap levels in Clear Skies -- endorsed by organizations such as the U.S. Conference of Mayors and National Association of Counties -- are calibrated to encourage utilities to put controls on coal rather than switch to natural gas in order to comply. That minimizes the overall impact on energy prices. Forcing fuel switching to natural gas, by contrast, maximizes it.

Finally, Clear Skies will help our ecosystems and wildlife thrive. It will eliminate chronic acidity in the Adirondacks and virtually eliminate it in other Northeastern lakes. It will improve long-term conditions in streams, rivers, lakes and bays. It will vastly improve visibility in many of our parks and other scenic locations.

Mr. Chairman, for these reasons, a broad array of state, regional and local officials, as well as unions and non-governmental organizations, have endorsed the approach to meeting air quality that Clear Skies delivers. We look forward to the Congress delivering Clear Skies.