Albert Einstein once said that “In the middle of every difficulty lies an opportunity.” Albert Einstein was a smart man, and we in Congress need to listen to him.
As members of the committee charged with protecting the environment, we are confronted with some of the greatest difficulties facing the planet. Global warming. Making sure that people can fish and swim in our nation’s rivers and lakes. Cleaning up the air so that fewer Americans will die or suffer from lung cancer and mercury poisoning. As members of Congress, it’s our responsibility to seize the opportunity to solve them.
The clean air issue is one I began to address when I first became a senator almost eight years ago. During that time, we’ve seen the Bush administration propose its own legislation, called “Clear Skies,” but refuse to budge when Congress wanted to strengthen that proposal.
We then saw the administration try to implement Clear Skies through regulation, only to see those regulations – first, the mercury rule and now, the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) – overturned by the Federal courts for being too weak or otherwise flawed.
In other words, eight years have gone by without any meaningful, substantive action on the clean air debate. I hope this offends everyone here as much as it does me.
This inaction means that tens of thousands of Americans will die prematurely from lung-related deaths who didn’t have to die. It means that thousands more children will be born with birth defects thanks to mercury poisoning who otherwise would have been born healthy and without incident. It means that Congress and this White House failed to do what’s right.
Let me be clear. I’m not going to wait another eight years to do what we should have done eight years ago, and that is pass a strong, comprehensive clean air bill that makes deep and meaningful reductions in mercury, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide.
We have the science and the technology to clean up our act in a way that makes sense and won’t put anybody out of business. We owe it to the American people to try harder, to come together and develop a bipartisan solution to the clean air mess we find ourselves in today.
My bet is that no one in this room really wanted the D.C. Circuit Court to over turn CAIR. I certainly didn’t. While I thought CAIR should have been stronger and have proposed legislation along those lines, CAIR would nevertheless have provided real benefits to my state.
As many of you know, Delaware struggles to meet its clean air goals because we’re located, along with our neighbors, at the end of America’s tailpipe. We simply can’t clean up our air along the eastern seaboard unless upwind states meet their obligations. In Delaware alone, we have 80,000 children and adults who suffer from asthma. CAIR would have reduced that number and saved lives.
But the court said the rule was “fundamentally flawed,” and that’s why we’ve invited all of our witnesses here to testify today – to find out what this ruling means and to understand its impact on the states, on industry and on public health.
I’m also hopeful that we can use today’s hearing to begin to develop consensus on how Congress should proceed for the balance of this year and once a new administration takes office in less than 175 days.
Let me offer some of my initial thoughts on that front.
One, we should not expect this administration or the next one to get the job done through regulation alone. The only sure-fire way we’re going to get the reductions we need is through congressional action. Only Congress can take back the power from the courts and ensure that we move forward on schedule.
Two, CAIR only covered the Eastern United States. We should write legislation that protects the whole country. This approach doesn’t just save more lives; it also prevents polluters from moving to unregulated areas in order to escape environmental controls.
Three, CAIR only addresses SO2 and NOx. We can do better by simultaneously addressing toxic mercury emissions, as well as carbon dioxide that causes global warming. I’ve said for some time that it makes no sense to address any one or two of these pollutants without addressing the others. A four-pollutant approach better protects the public health and gives industry the flexibility and regulatory certainty they need to implement the most cost-effective control strategy.
I believe a good starting point for discussions on how to proceed is a bipartisan bill that I introduced again last year, the Clean Air Planning Act (CAPA), which many of this committee’s members have cosponsored.
That legislation just picked up its 13th cosponsor yesterday, thank you for joining us, Sen. Hillary Clinton, welcome back to this committee, and thank you very much for lending your support and your voice to our efforts.
We believe that CAPA provides an aggressive, yet achievable, schedule for power plants to reduce emissions from nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, mercury and carbon dioxide. It goes further, faster than what the Bush administration put forward – a fact even more compelling given the legislative stalemate of the past eight years.
I’d also point out that EPA’s own analysis shows that CAPA greatly improves the health benefits associated with CAIR. For instance, 10,000 more premature deaths would be avoided under our legislation than under the CAIR rule.
CAPA is great starting point, but I want to say that all options are on the table. What matters most to me is not what legislative vehicle we use to clean up our air, but rather that we get something done. But that something has got to be comprehensive, meaningful, and it has to be stronger than what the administration’s CAIR and seriously flawed mercury rule would have provided.
In addition to today’s hearing, I’ll be holding other hearings and roundtables on this issue throughout the fall to hear various perspectives on how to move forward on clean air legislation early next year. Again, we don’t have the luxury of waiting another eight years to get the job done. It’s time for all of us to come to the table and pass a long overdue update to the Clean Air Act. It’s time to stop squandering opportunities and to seize them.