I would like to thank Sens. Voinovich and Inhofe for scheduling this hearing. The fact that the committee has placed multi-pollutant legislation so high on the agenda for the 109th Congress shows a commitment to the issue that will be necessary to pass a bill. However, to pass multi-pollutant legislation, it will require agreement and cooperation from both sides of the aisle.
Clean air does not have to be a partisan issue. It shouldn’t be a partisan issue. This committee has always acted in a bipartisan way, and if you look back in history, the most significant environmental laws all passed with overwhelming support of both Democrats and Republicans. I hope that will be the case on the issue of clean air.
I have concerns about the President’s Clear Skies plan because it does not go far enough, fast enough, and it does nothing to address the role electricity generation plays in global warming. The government has a responsibility to provide clean air for people to breathe. If we establish the right targets and timelines, American ingenuity will meet the challenge, clean technologies will come to market and create new jobs, and emissions will be reduced. But if we do nothing or set the wrong targets then we will have failed in one of our basic responsibilities. Clear Skies sets the wrong targets and timetables for the emissions it does address, and it completely misses the mark on CO2 and global warming. We can do better.
Power plants, particularly those burning coal, are a leading source of air pollution in a state like Delaware and across the nation. Since 1970, the Clean Air Act has helped clean up our nation’s air, but we still have work to do. An example of what we need to do comes from the EPA itself, which reported that, in 2000, there were nearly 2 million emergency room visits and nearly half a million hospitalizations due to asthma. Moreover, the rate of asthma among school children has more than doubled in the past 20 years!
From the perspective of industry, businesses do not like unpredictability. Currently, we have several regulations on various pollutants and pollution sources with different implementation schedules and often overlapping goals. New ozone and fine particulate standards are currently being implemented, while new standards for mercury are pending before the EPA right now. Meanwhile, states are considering regulating CO2. A more-coordinated approach is needed, not just to provide cleaner air but to provide regulatory certainty to utilities.
Last Congress, I introduced a four pollutant bill called the Clean Air Planning Act with Sens. Chafee, Gregg and Alexander. The Clean Air Planning Act takes a market-based approach that, compared to Clear Skies, would achieve the following for only an additional 2 percent in total system costs: an additional 33 million tons of nitrogen oxides reductions; an additional 25 million tons of sulfur dioxide reductions; an additional 150 tons of mercury reductions; and an additional 6 billion tons of CO2 reductions, plus business and investment certainty.
Dollar for dollar, our 4-pollutant proposal achieves significantly greater benefits than the president’s 3-pollutant proposal. Including the cost of regulating CO2, which is minimal, the total cost difference between Clear Skies and the Clean Air Planning Act over a 20-year period (2005 to 2025) is about two percent. The EPA has estimated that retail electricity prices would increase by only $1.20 per month for the average residence under the Clean Air Planning Act versus under Clear Skies.
You can’t measure a clean air bill by cost alone, however. You also have to take into consideration public health benefits. When our bill is fully implemented, it will result in $60 billion in public health benefits and prevent 5,900 fewer premature deaths.
The key question is what will happen now. To a large degree, that is up to the President and up to the leadership in the House and Senate. I am concerned about reports saying that the White House and Senate Republicans want to move Clear Skies quickly and without fully engaging Democrats about what is best for the country. If the approach to moving this bill is going to be “my way or the highway” then we’re going to end up in a traffic jam. I hope we can work through our differences and produce legislation that will improve our air quality in a cost-effective way.