Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Jeffords, thank you for holding this hearing today on S. 131, the Clear Skies bill. This issue is very important, to the country and to my state of Montana.
I believe we have an opportunity to craft a bi-partisan bill in this Committee. But, this is not a simple task. It will require difficult negotiations and a lot of hard work. We have to listen to each other, rather than talking past each other. We’ve held a lot of hearings, but we’ve had very little discussion about what was said at those hearings.
I don’t think there’s a lot of disagreement over the basic principles in this debate. Cleaner air and a healthier environment; greater certainty for business; more efficient regulation; reduced costs of compliance. That’s our goal, to take what we’ve learned from the implementation of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, and craft a better program that reduces pollution and enhances our global competitiveness. The question, of course, is how do we achieve this? Certainly, there is a significant difference of opinion among members of this Committee as to what is the best approach.
But, a difference of opinion doesn’t mean a good compromise is out of our reach. It certainly doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t even try to find common ground. That’s what we’re here for in this Committee. That’s what I want to see.
In order to do this, though, we need to build some trust. There needs to been an understanding that this isn’t a take it or leave it situation, that the legitimate concerns of members of this Committee about this legislation will not be ignored or dismissed, but considered and, where possible, addressed.
Will we all be able to agree on what is the best way forward? Probably not. But, I think we can do better than an even split, or a bare majority. We should be shooting for as strong a bi-partisan vote as possible that will help this bill survive on the floor. We have to do that if we’re serious about actually accomplishing something this year. We still need 60 votes to pass anything in this body.
Personally, I have a few simple criteria for any multi-pollutant bill: First, it must represent a clear and positive step forward on clean air as compared to the status quo. I understand that we’re facing very different challenges now than we did in 1990, even if we just consider the significant changes that have occurred within the utility industry during that time. New challenges call for a new approach, such as a sound multi-pollutant bill, but we have to make sure that we maintain and improve upon the Clean Air Act’s success at reducing air pollution nationwide.
Second, legislation must not harm, and if possible, must promote, the development of Montana coal. Montana sits on the largest coal reserves in the nation. These coal reserves represent an enormous economic potential for my state, in royalties, revenue and jobs. Unfortunately, we just haven’t been able to develop the markets for our low-sulfur coal that our friends and neighbors in Wyoming have. I would like to see if there’s a way we can fix that problem. Additionally, there are a lot of proposals out there right now to develop new power plants in Montana that burn Montana coal. Of course, not all of them will be built. But I want to be sure that any legislation treats new plants fairly and provides sufficient incentives for them to be built. New plants are cleaner and more efficient than older plants, particularly those plants that are 40 and 50 years old. Efficient and clean should be rewarded, not penalized, particularly if we want to continue to advance clean coal technologies to ensure that coal has a robust future.
Third, the legislation must substantively address carbon dioxide. I think we can put together a strong package that passes the laugh test and pushes the technology envelope without penalizing coal or harming our economy. I think such a package would win the support of a majority of Senators on this Committee and on the floor.
Right now, it’s too soon for me to confirm whether Clear Skies satisfies the first two criteria; I know that it does not satisfy the third. However, I’m confident that we can find a compromise if, again, we work hard and talk to each other. And, if we have the time to work something out. A rush to mark-up, without laying any foundation for a bi-partisan compromise to take to the floor, is not a strategy for success. This is frustrating because I want a good bill. It’s the right thing to do and I think we can get it done.
I would like to associate myself with the earlier comments of Senator Carper, where he noted that there is a great deal of room for negotiation on this bill, in terms of caps and timelines, regulatory relief and CO2. I have a great deal of regard for both Senator Voinovich and Senator Carper, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Clean Air Subcommittee. They are both former governors, they know how to get things done. They have both indicated their willingness to start a dialogue and find a compromise. I fully support their efforts and will do everything I can to help ensure they succeed.
Mr. Chairman, let’s set this Committee up to succeed. I think we’re close on so many issues but the process needs time work itself out. Let’s give it that time to see what can be done. It will be time well spent and I think it will only help this bill’s prospects going forward.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.