U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   07/13/2006
 
Statement of Senator Joseph I. Lieberman
EPA’s Proposed Revisions to the Particulate Matter Air Quality Standards

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Each and every year, 45,000 Americans die on average 14 years earlier than we’d normally expect because they are forced to inhale harmful amounts of particulate matter, or PM – a lethal combination of extremely small particles and liquid droplets made up of acids, organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles – emitted by power plants, diesel engines, and other sources.

In Connecticut, PM causes more than 400 premature deaths, nearly 800 non-fatal heart attacks, and more than 9,000 asthma attacks each year. There are three things I believe Americans rightly expect the federal government to do to combat this threat to public health. Unfortunately, we are failing at every step. First, the federal government’s most fundamental responsibility is to tell Americans truthfully whether the concentrations of PM in the air they breathe are at levels that endanger their health. Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed instead to hide the truth.

EPA has proposed to set national ambient air quality standards for particulate matter above the limits that the scientists, doctors, and public servants on the Congressionally-chartered Clean Air Science Advisory Committee have identified as necessary to protect public health. Not surprisingly, the political officials are unable to identify any scientific basis whatsoever for disregarding the results of the expert panel’s exhaustive work.

On top of that, in determining whether the concentration of particulate matter in an area exceeds national standards, EPA has proposed ignoring dust from mining operations and farm fields. It is, however, the size of a particle, not its origin, that determines the harmful effect on lungs. Particles from mines and farms are the same deadly size as ones emitted by power plants and diesel engines.

And, bizarrely, EPA has proposed exempting areas containing fewer than 100,000 people from the requirement to monitor concentrations of coarse particulate matter. Apparently, EPA’s top officials do not believe that rural Americans have the same right as urban ones to know whether the air they breathe contains harmful levels of pollution.

My first request, then, is for EPA to abandon its plans to conceal from Americans the true extent of their current exposure to harmful levels of particulate matter. Specifically, I ask that EPA’s final particulate standards adopt the limits that the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee recommended, omit the exemptions for mining and agricultural dust, and not exempt smaller communities from monitoring.

The second action that I believe the federal government should take to help free Americans from the menace of air-borne particulates is to implement and enforce the existing Clean Air Act provisions that can directly bring about the most dramatic and cost-effective emission reductions. Unfortunately, EPA has chosen instead to half-implement, and even to undermine, the statutory provisions. For instance, in the rule that EPA promulgated recently under the Clean Air Act section that mandates cuts in the interstate transport of air pollution, the agency avoided requiring steep, prompt, and highly cost-effective reductions in particulate-forming emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants. Because EPA has chosen to let off the hook the wealthy, heavy, upwind polluters that could have achieved the most dramatic reductions at the lowest cost, state and local officials such as those testifying before this Subcommittee today are left to piece together, from a large number of expensive and politically difficult measures, the remaining cuts that are needed to protect public health.

Dealing another blow to state and local governments, EPA has in recent years taken pains to undermine the Clean Air Act provisions that require coal-fired power plants to accompany otherwise pollution-increasing renovations with environmental upgrades that slash a plant’s pollution by ninety percent or more. According to the agency’s own inspector general, EPA’s polluter-friendly rule changes stand to prevent federal, state, and local enforcers from securing millions of tons-per-year of highly cost-effective reductions in particulate-forming emissions. Again, the consequence will be that state and local governments must squeeze the needed reductions from myriad smaller businesses that cannot deliver them as easily.

My second request, then, is for EPA to return to a policy of implementing, as opposed to undermining, the Clean Air Act provisions that can directly achieve the largest and most cost-effective cuts in particulate-forming emissions. Specifically, I ask that EPA undo the provisions in its pollution transport rule that make it difficult for states to obtain power-plant pollution cuts beyond the insufficient ones required by EPA’s rule. Further, I ask that EPA abandon its regulatory effort to undermine the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review provisions and resume enforcing those provisions against coal-fired power plants that flout them.

Finally, I believe the public is justified in expecting the federal government to appropriate reasonable amounts of money to help state and local governments bring the areas under their care into line with the national ambient air quality standards for particulate matter. Unfortunately, under the Bush Administration’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2007, the federal government would devote $35 million less than it has in Fiscal Year 2006 to helping state and local governments install air pollution monitors and develop and implement plans to reduce particulate concentrations. While the House of Representatives recently voted to restore all the money that the Administration had cut, the bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee would restore less than half the amount.

My final request, then, is that we members of the Senate spend less time entertaining calls to put off the essential work of cleaning up harmful air pollution, and that we exert more of an effort to appropriate the funds necessary to allow that life-saving work to proceed now.

We owe that to Americans. A breath of fresh air should be a right – not a danger. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.