Statement of Senator John H. Chafee
Hearings on Clean Air Standards for Ozone and Particulate Matter
Committee on Environment and Public Works
February 12, 1997

The purpose of our hearing today is to review the national ambient air quality standards for ozone and particulate matter that EPA published last November. These are very complex and far-reaching proposals. After careful review, I am concerned that they may be too far-reaching.

It is possible to push too far, too fast. Consider the history of the Safe Drinking Water Act. I believe everyone now agrees that the 1986 Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act went too far. That legislation overloaded the states and community water systems regulated under that law.

The problems with the drinking water program were created by Congress, not EPA. The 1986 drinking water bill was based on the best of intentions. I am sure if you look at the testimony supporting that legislation from 1984 and 1985, you will see statements very similar to those we will hear today: "Children are at risk of adverse health effects because they are exposed to toxic pollutants. We could avoid disease outbreaks and hospital costs by improving control technologies. A large number of Americans die prematurely each year because of their exposure to contaminants that could be reduced."

The 1986 drinking water amendments responded to those public health concerns. Congress had the best of intentions. But we overloaded the system. As the ah Congress opened the Safe Drinking Water Act was cited in hearings all across the Capitol as the best example of what was wrong with the federal government.

With the hard work of Senator Kempthorne, Senator Caucus and Senator Reid and all the members of the Committee, and the support of EPA, we reformed that law last year. We got rid of the overload. It's back on the right course now. But it is an experience we should keep in mind. Even in the name of public health, it is possible to press too far, too fast.

Now, contrast that experience with another -- the ban on chlorofluorocarbons. Destruction of the ozone layer is about as serious an environmental problem as you can imagine. It's a worldwide threat that will take a century or more to correct. I suppose there were some beginning when the first scientific papers were published in the early 1970s who thought that we should ban all of the CFCs immediately. But we didn't take that course. Under the leadership of, first, Lee Thomas and, later, Bill Reilly, we took a more incremental approach.

We moved step-by-step starting with a freeze. Then we had a reduction. There was a tax to discourage use. And eventually we got to a ban on any production. At first we didn't address all of the ozone-depleting chemicals, but the list grew as we learned more.

The control program advanced quickly, but only as it was supported by good science and wide public support. In fact, many of the decisions made by EPA along the way were immediately endorsed by scientists from the chemical companies that manufacture CFCs. People knew that improving the science was the key to getting rid of CFCs. Improving the science became a high priority. That's an experience to keep in mind. It's possible to make rapid progress on even the most difficult environmental problems with science serving as the foundation for public consensus.

How do those experiences inform our hearing today? I think it is appropriate to ask whether the proposed standards for ozone and particulate matter are the right measures or if they go too far -- if they overload the Clean Air Act.

Frankly, there is reason to be worried about the health of the Clean Air Act. Although EPA has done a good job on the acid rain and stratospheric protection provisions of the 1990 Amendments, the ozone non attainment program has fallen far behind schedule. And these two new standards -- among the very largest regulations ever issued by EPA -- would be piled on top.

Apparently, some are of the opinion that concerns about overloading the system cannot be considered when these standards are set. According to this view we must wait for the implementation phase to determine whether we have gone too far. I hope that is not what the Clean Air Act says. If that is the theory, we put the tremendous achievements of the Clean Air Act in jeopardy. Surely, we can find a way to work together to address the important public health concerns that the newest science indicates might be caused by air pollution without providing fuel for another round of attacks on our environmental laws.