(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
Today’s hearing will continue the attention the EPW Committee is giving all this month to the issues of cleaning up our nation’s air and moving toward a clean energy economy.
Today, we are shifting the focus from greenhouse gases to the other major pollutants emitted by our nation’s fossil-fuel power plants – sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury.
These pollutants are silent killers – causing serious health problems, such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, cancer and even death. More than 24,000 Americans die a year from sulfur dioxide emissions alone.
Unfortunately, many of our fellow Americans are exposed to these pollutants every day. Six out of 10 Americans – more than 186 million people - live in areas where air pollution levels endanger lives.
And these pollutants know no state boundaries. Pollution in one state easily moves to another – making it very difficult to reduce these pollutants through state regulations alone.
Fortunately, we have the technology to make the reductions necessary to protect our health and grow our economy at the same time.
Now we have to find the right incentives for utilities to make the right investments and implement this new technology.
Since coming to the Senate, I’ve tried to provide these industry incentives through multi-pollutant legislation. But every year I’m told the technology doesn’t exist, or it’s too complicated, or to just let the EPA handle it.
We’ve been here before. Despite claims that action would cripple the economy or that technology didn’t exist, Congress amended the Clean Air Act in 1990 and implemented the first cap and trade program for sulfur dioxide power plant emissions – known as the Acid Rain Program.
Since then, it has been one of the most successful environmental programs in our nation’s history. Not only have we had 100% utility compliance, we also got greater emission reductions at a faster rate than we expected - at a quarter of the cost.
Still, 19 years later, Congress has not made any significant changes to the Clean Air Act and the EPA has had difficulties tightening and broadening power plant emission reductions.
Recent EPA attempts to regulate SOx, NOx and mercury emissions have been thrown out by the courts. Each decision has limited the agency’s policy choices of how to reduce these pollutants.
I have faith the EPA can write new and stronger rules to regulate these pollutants – and I look forward to hearing how Ms. McCarthy expects to do that – but I’m afraid such regulations will be mired in the courts for years to come.
Delays result in business uncertainty, more air pollution, and more costly reductions in the future. This is why I believe – as does my friend from Tennessee, Senator Alexander – that we can no longer wait for clean air.
Together, we are working on a bill – a 3P bill – that reduces sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury fossil-fuel emissions.
We want legislation that does not allow backsliding on pollution reductions and that provides business and environmental certainty.
And, we will extend the Acid Rain Program to include stronger sulfur dioxide reductions and a national nitrogen oxide cap and trade program.
We agree that cap and trade should not be used for toxics, so we are putting a plant-by-plant cap on mercury emissions.
We hope to drop a bill in the next few weeks and respectfully seek your input on this effective, efficient and durable plan for clean air.
I hope today’s hearing will serve as a reminder that we cannot forget the other Ps as we work on climate.