SEN. TOM CARPER STATEMENT
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on
Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Hearing
“Oversight: Review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) for Power Plants”
March 20, 2012
In 1990, Congress overwhelmingly passed - and President George H.W. Bush signed - the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. This law established the framework for our modern-day clean air protections – like the one we are talking about today.
In the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, Congress identified 188 air toxics – toxics like mercury, lead and arsenic – that were known to be harmful to public health and needed to be controlled. Many of these air toxics are silent killers – getting into the food we eat as well as the air we breathe and building up in our body without our knowledge.
In the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, Congress also established a common sense approach to reducing air toxics. Congress required sources of these toxics to implement proven technologies – which were already being used by the best 12 percent of all actors in their respective industries. After decades of study, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has concluded that coal- and oil-fired power plants emit over 60 of the identified air toxics. The EPA has also found that these types of utilities are the largest source of mercury emissions in this country.
Over the years, we have seen through state-led examples that cleaning up mercury from dirty coal power plants can significantly reduce the mercury in nearby lakes, fish and fowl. Yet, 22 years after Congress approved addressing coal- and oil-fired power plant air toxics under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, the federal government is just now starting to curb these harmful pollutants. This February, the EPA issued the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for Power Plants (MATS) rule, directing dirty coal- and oil-fired power plants to use current technology to clean up their toxic emissions.
As someone who has tried for years to work across the aisle to find a way to clean up our nation's power plants, I was encouraged to see the EPA finally act to address these harmful emissions. Furthermore, as someone who also believes the role of government is to provide a nurturing environment for job growth and job preservation, while ensuring corporations act as good citizens – I was encouraged by how the EPA's issued the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule.
This long overdue public health measure will help ensure our nation's utilities are doing their very best to keep our air clean - allowing many people in this country to live better, healthier and, in some cases, longer lives. At the same time, the EPA has provided a reasonable and achievable schedule for our dirtiest power plants to reduce harmful emissions. The agency has even allowed extra time if needed for industry and states to address any possible local reliability concerns.
As we will hear today, some utilities will decide to close down their dirtiest, most inefficient coal plants rather than comply. It is just not affordable to modernize these plants. And as these plants close, some communities will be impacted more than others. However, most communities will see great benefits from these rules – in fact nationally we will see up to $90 billion in public health benefits. And as we will also hear today – modernizing our coal fleet is expected to be a net job creator not a job killer.
Which leads me to my final thought: I believe it's possible to have a clean environment and a strong economy. I think it's a false choice to say that we have to have one or the other; we can have both. That is especially true for cleaning up our air pollution. In fact, as the EPA has implemented the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, our nation's air has gotten cleaner, while electricity rates have stayed constant and our economy has grown by 60 percent. For every dollar we spend cleaning the air, we've seen $30 returned in reduced health care costs, better workplace productivity, and lives saved.
Now with our economy moving out of a deep recession, some people – many of which are my colleagues – are asking us to choose again between the economy and public health. They say we must choose between cleaning up our biggest mercury polluters and jobs. Choose between keeping our children safe from deadly toxics and keeping the lights on. Let me say again – we do not have to choose. We can have both. And on that note, I look forward to having an open and thoughtful dialogue with our witnesses and my colleagues today.