U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   02/02/2005
 
Statement of Senator James M. Jeffords
Legislative Hearing on S.131, the Clear Skies Act of 2005

A decade and a half ago I worked with many of the current members of this Committee in crafting the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990.

We and some of the legends of this Committee and this institution, John Chafee, Pat Moynihan, George Mitchell and others banded together to write a law that has resulted in great health and environmental benefits.

Today, in great contrast, we will debate the merits of S. 131. I am not putting it mildly when I state that S. 131 eviscerates the Clean Air Act. S. 131, as introduced, represents the biggest rollback of the Act ever presented to this Committee.

I believe most laws can be improved. Once again, I repeat my willingness to negotiate and to compromise to make improvements in the existing Clean Air Act to increase guaranteed public health and environmental benefits. But, S.131 is not a net improvement.

The Clean Air Act is working, despite the continued efforts of the Bush Administration to undermine it and to protect industry at the expense of the public health. I understand that power plant owners want a new law to escape vigorous enforcement of the Clean Air Act, particularly New Source Review. The power plant companies want further delay of legal deadlines to achieve the health-based standards for ozone and fine particulate matter.

Utilities want to be shielded from reducing toxic air pollutants, like mercury and other heavy metals, and from achieving modern emission standards. And most fossil fuel plants want to put off dealing with global warming forever.

But now is not the time to fulfill the polluters wish list. Since 1990, more than 70 million tons of pollution have been reduced and the law is still working, accruing more than $110 billion in net benefits every year.

Amazingly, those reductions occurred while GDP rose considerably and electricity prices increased by less than one cent per kilowatt-hour. An incredible success.

S.131 radically slows that progress and reverses course. S. 131 rewrites major portions of the Clean Air Act to delay attainment of the health-based standards - leaving millions of Americans to breath dirty air longer.

The bill never achieves the emissions reductions claimed by the proponents. The caps are not really caps and the bill is rife with loopholes for polluters and litigation.

This bill takes the efficient market-based system set up in 1990 and dismantles it. The states' ability to rely on Federal action to prevent interstate transport of air pollution is crippled by S.131.

The current Act's drive for continual improvement of pollution control technology from new and modified sources would be stifled. S. 131 actually increases greenhouse gas emissions by 13% or more in 2020.

S. 150, the Clean Power Act, my tri-partisan bill with 18 cosponsors, achieves greater pollution reduction, faster and with greater benefits for society. As does Senator Carper's.

Unfortunately, the S. 131 and the Administration=s proposed interstate rule is much less about obtaining the maximum benefits than it is about providing maximum protection to the utility industry from the requirements of the current Clean Air Act. S.131 is really quite a sweetheart deal. All of the permits or allowances to pollute are handed out to industry sources for free.

Under S.131, the public, who really own the rights to the air, would see higher medical and insurance costs due to pollution that lingers longer than the law allows.

Let me leave you with some sobering thoughts. Everyday, on average, power plant pollution will contribute to or cause 68 Americans to die prematurely, 1000 to have a non-fatal heart attack, and thousands of adults and children to have asthma attacks so severe they will go the hospital. And 6.6 million tons of carbon dioxide will add to the already serious risk of dangerous interference with the earth's climate system.

Today, we will spend about $1 billion or more of taxpayer's money on homeland security to protect against a certainly dangerous but uncertain threat. How much will we spend to save lives and protect the quality of lives hurt by pollution?

The Clean Air Act sets out air quality and emissions performance standards aimed at constantly reducing the known threat of certain damage from dangerous manmade emissions.

Our energy sector must do more to meet those standards. They and the Federal government must invest more seriously and rapidly in cleaner, more efficient technologies to protect health and the environment. S. 131 does nothing to meet these challenges and allows more pollution than current law. It won't make a better tomorrow.

Thank you.