Thank you Chairman Voinovich. I want to commend you and your staff for calling this oversight hearing, and for your leadership this issue. I am pleased that we are having this hearing today to provide Congressional oversight of the EPA as they work towards a proposal that will cause significant economic damage to my State.
EPA has unilaterally chosen to “move the goalposts” on States and communities that are diligently working towards implementation plans for current clean air standards. EPA has clear discretion to not change the standard and can set it at any level. EPA has instead chosen, in the face of evidence that shows the risk with particulate matter has decreased since 1997, to propose a 24-hour fine particle standard that would add 530 counties nationwide, and 67 counties in my state, to the non attainment list. A non attainment designation puts a stigma on these counties and communities that is almost impossible to come out from under. This designation has resulted in current businesses closing up shop and new businesses avoiding the area. The impact on the tax base has negative repercussions on the schools, emergency services, and community.
I look forward to hearing from Administrator Wehrum as to whether he and his agency, when making these decisions that effect so many peoples lives, consider the “hidden costs” that I have mentioned above. I also look forward to his explanation of EPA’s decision making on this process, and how they arrived at this decision.
I would also like to welcome Chairwoman Bebe Heiskell before the Committee. Bebe is testifying on our second panel, and is the Sole Commissioner of Walker County, Georgia. Walker is one of only a handful of remaining counties in America that have only one Commissioner. Bebe has set precedence by being elected the first female Sole Commissioner in the State of Georgia and the first Republican County Commissioner of Walker County. She will give us first hand evidence of the negative effects a non attainment designation has on a rural county.
I have stated this in previous hearings but it bears repeating again: 60 percent of my state of Georgia's population lives in a non-attainment area. That is over 5 million people. 28 of 159 of our Counties, including Walker and Catoosa Counties in the mountains, through Metro Atlanta, and down to Muscogee County and the Metro Columbus area, are in non-attainment for particulate matter. 22 of 159 counties over the same geographic area are in non-attainment for ozone. This hearing is very timely, as air quality is an issue that Georgians in my state deal with every day.
And while it is not the topic of the hearing today, in my view a fix for these problems would have been passage of the Clear Skies bill. I am hopeful that we, as a committee, can come together and bring to the floor that legislation which in my opinion is better than current law.
In the meantime I will stop here so that we can get to our witnesses. I look forward to hearing from the panels, thank Chairman Voinovich for his leadership to date, and yield back the balance of my time.