My colleagues and I were sent to Washington to govern and to find common-sense solutions to the challenges facing our nation. I don't believe Americans are especially interested in Democratic ideas or Republican ideas. They want us to come up with ideas that will work and we can all agree on to make our country even better.
Cleaning up black carbon and dirty diesel emissions provides us an opportunity to work across the aisle, something we do too rarely these days.
For folks that don’t know, black carbon emissions – sometimes called soot – are the dark particles emitted when fossil fuels, biomass and biofuels are burned. Black carbon particles make up a large part of our nation’s fine particulate matter pollution.
Once in the air, these black carbon particles absorb heat from the sun – causing a warming effect in the atmosphere and can speed up the melting process if it lands on snow or ice.
Black carbon can also cause serious health impacts. These particles can get lodged deep in the lungs and cause respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis, asthma, lung cancer, and premature death. Indoor and outdoor emissions of black carbon are estimated to have caused millions of premature deaths worldwide each year – many of these deaths occur overseas in developing countries.
There is still much we don’t know about the health impacts of black carbon. That is why in 2009, Senators Inhofe and I asked the EPA to study black carbon and report back to Congress.
We received EPA’s report in 2012 – and since then the international scientific community has been very focused on this issue. I look forward to today’s testimony to hear an update on the health and climate impacts of black carbon.
Although we are still learning about the full extent of black carbon’s impact on public health and climate change – we do know what it takes to reduce harmful emissions.
And we have technology that’s designed and made in America to reduce these emissions.
Over half of our country’s black carbon emissions and a large part of global emissions come from old, dirty diesel engines. The kinds of engines you’d find in school buses, bulldozers and other large vehicles.
As we will hear from our witnesses, clean diesel engines made in America today are reaching near zero emissions. While that is great news, it does nothing to address the pollution coming from the millions of engines already in use that will likely be operating – and polluting -- for the next 20 years
Despite new engine standards, the EPA estimates there are 11 million old diesel engines in America lacking the latest pollution control technology. In 2005, our friend former Senator George Voinovich came to me with an idea to address the dirty diesel engine backlog – which soon was signed into law as the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA). Through DERA, the EPA provides voluntary incentives to diesel engine owners to retrofit or replace their vehicle early.
DERA turned out to be a great idea - averaging more than $13 in health benefits for every $1 in funding. Since it was enacted, DERA has helped replace or retrofit thousands of old school busses - 2,000 school buses in Mississippi alone. Since up to 90 kids can ride on average school bus – that’s up to 180,000 kids in Mississippi that are breathing better on their way to school because of this law.
By cleaning up our school buses and ports, DERA reduces our nation’s black carbon emissions and employs thousands of workers who manufacture, sell or repair diesel vehicles and their components in each state. It is a true win-win.
In 2010, we reauthorized the DERA program through 2016 and made some changes to try to improve DERA's effectiveness. Unfortunately, every year the President’s budget had decreased funding for the DERA program.
I appreciate dedication to reducing the federal deficit, but some investments are worth paying for, even during these challenging financial times. Cutting such a successful program is penny wise and pound foolish, which is why I will work with my colleagues to restore funding for this effective law.
Although DERA is a great success, more can be done to reduce our black carbon diesel emissions. For example, the bulldozers, diggers, and backhoes that build our nation's infrastructure produce 25 percent of America's mobile diesel emissions. But because of who owns these construction vehicles and how they are used, DERA has not been as effective at reducing emissions from our nation's construction equipment.
To better address this problem, last Congress I introduced the Clean Construction Act of 2011. This common-sense approach is simple: in areas of poor air quality, federal transportation projects should reduce, not increase, deadly diesel emissions. Major provisions of this legislation made it into the Senate-passed transportation reauthorization bill. Unfortunately, nearly all the language was subsequently removed during conference with the House. As we look to a new transportation bill – I will continue my efforts on this front.
In closing, I look forward to today’s testimony to learn more about the health impacts of black carbon and what more we could do to reduce emissions. I believe if we continue to work together on this issue – we can build on the progress we have already made and use our resources wisely to reduce black carbon emissions at home and abroad.