Thank you Madam Chairman, and Senator Inhofe. I’d like to begin by welcoming all our witnesses to the Committee today, but especially Steve Johnson. I have been impressed by his performance to date and, while we may not have always agreed, I have always found him responsive to the needs of my constituents when called upon by them.
As we conduct this hearing today to provide Congressional oversight recent EPA decisions, I would like to focus my opening remarks on reforms to the process for setting National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). As we all know, the Clean Air Act requires EPA to set NAAQS for pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment.
The NAAQS are reviewed every five years and revised, if appropriate. By law, the NAAQS review results in rules that tighten, retain, or loosen the standards.
The NAAQS process, however, has become unwieldy. The EPA for the past 15 years has had a poor track record of meeting its five year statutory deadline. This has resulted in most NAAQS deadlines being set by the courts. This process has repeated itself without regard to which party is in power at the time of the deadline.
These delays are the result of a combination of a number of things. The process of information gathering into a Criteria Document - where all information is considered regardless of its relevancy in the decision making process for evaluating and potentially changing the standard - is onerous. The types and amount of information that is available and examined has increased exponentially. The process became so burdensome that, in practice, EPA staff and not the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee (CASAC), a statutorily set part of the process, have prepared these reviews. CASAC's role has been to review and approve these EPA documents before they went to the agency's appointees and the Administrator for final decisions.
The result is that the members of the CASAC do not read all the materials presented to them and instead make individual judgments of what is and is not important. Recognizing how cumbersome the NAAQS review process has become, EPA rightfully began an agency internal review in December 2005 on how to streamline the process. After a year, in December 2006, it revised the process to make it more manageable, and to ensure it meets its five year statutory deadlines.
The four key changes to the process consist of the following:
1. Planning: Create one integrated plan early in the process so that all participants may focus on policy-relevant issues.
2. Integrated Science Assessment: Replace the voluminous Criteria Document with a more concise synthesis of the most policy-relevant science. This includes creating a state-of-the-art electronic databases to catalog new studies.
3. Risk/Exposure Assessment: Create a more concise document to focus on key results and uncertainties.
4. ANPR: Replace the Staff Paper with an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking containing more narrowly focused assessment. ANPR will reflect Agency views and present a range of policy options and accompanying rationales for discussion.
Even with these reforms, the CASAC will retain its advisory role in the NAAQS process on all four key elements. I believe EPA when they say that these improvements, will help the agency meet the goal of reviewing each NAAQS on a 5-year cycle as required by the Clean Air Act, without compromising the scientific integrity of the process.
I would like to take a minute to address the concerns of those who say the influence of the CASAC is diminished under the new system. It is my understanding that the CASAC had the opportunity to, but chose not to, issue a formal response to the December 7th memo in which the new process was outlined. In fact, in response to a draft of the changes the CASAC made a number of suggestions which were incorporated in the final memorandum.
One of CASAC’s suggestions, the convening of a science workshop at the outset of the process to better focus the review, addressed a major concern that the old process spent too much time compiling an encyclopedic review of the literature which had little relevance to the policy questions that needed to be addressed.
With respect to the concerns some have voiced with regards to EPA taking comments from CASAC at the same time that it considers comments from the public, I would direct them to the comments of Dr. Rogene Henderson, the CASAC Chair, in the press on December 14th, 2006. Dr. Henderson said the following: "[S]ome of the members were concerned but most are not, because it doesn't change CASAC's ability to comment."
I commend EPA for streamlining this unwieldy process and look forward to hearing from our witnesses today. I yield back my time.