Statement of Senator John H. Chafee
Hearings on Ambient Air Quality Standards
Subcommittee on Clean Air, Wetlands, Private Property and Nuclear Safety
April 24, 1997

Mr. Chairman, one of the most troubling aspects of this complicated EPA proposal is the mismatch between the public health threat that is presumably posed by fine particles and the schedule for actually reducing emissions of this pollutant.

On the one hand, Administrator Browner has told us that 5,000 Americans are killed each year by elevated levels of particulate pollution and tens of thousands more are hospitalized. Although many have urged that her decision now scheduled for July be postponed so that we could expand the scientific foundation for a new standard, EPA speaks of the problem in terms that communicate a public health emergency.

On the other hand, we will learn at this hearing that the first regulations to actually reduce fine particulate pollution under the Clean Air Act will not be in place until the year 2005 or later. Today, we have few monitoring stations that can measure fine particulate pollution. Once the monitors are put in place, we must collect data for 3 years to determine which areas violate the new standard. States with nonattainment areas are then given 3 more years to write plans to reduce emissions. And it is only after EPA has approved these plans -- a step that frequently takes a year or more -- that regulations to improve air quality are adopted by the states.

This is a very important hearing because it allows us to explore the apparent disconnect between the rhetoric used to describe the problem and the timeline for acting on solutions. One lesson that we may take away from this hearing is that we do have time to improve our understanding of the health threat posed by this type of pollution before we commit vast sums to a new regulatory program. In my view, it is very important that we make the best possible use of this window for better science. Attaining this new standard for fine particulates everywhere in the nation would take a very substantial effort -- perhaps $20 billion per year or more. EPA will not be able to follow through on that kind of effort without a substantial public consensus as to nature of the health threat. That consensus does not exist today. But it can be built with more science and public education.