Statement of John Selph
April 29, 1997
Air Quality Hearing

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, my name is John Selph. I am a member of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC) and I chair NARC's Air Quality Task Force. I am chairman-elect of the Indian Nations Council of Governments (INCOG), the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the Tulsa area, and I chair INCOG's Air Quality Committee.

On behalf of NARC, I appreciate your invitation to testify before the Subcommittee regarding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposed changes to the Clean Air Standards. The National Association of Regional Councils represents some 300+ councils of government consisting of cities, towns and counties in metropolitan and rural areas from throughout the United States. These regions run the gamut from areas in severe non-attainment to regions that have always been in attainment. My comments reflect the policy positions developed by NARC. My comments also draw from my experience as a County Commissioner in Tulsa, Oklahoma and my academic background, which includes a Masters Degree in Public Health with an emphasis in Environmental Sciences.

Before I discuss EPA's proposed standards, let me tell you a little about Tulsa and our experience with air quality. Tulsa County was a non-attainment area until 1990. We worked very hard locally to achieve attainment status, and our county achieved attainment status prior to the signing of the Clean Air Act Amendments in November, 1990.

It was very important for us to avoid the stigma associated with being on the EPA non-attainment list, especially for economic development purposes. Since that time, we have worked even harder to maintain our clean air status. While our efforts have been wide- ranging, perhaps most notable was the creation of the nationally recognized Ozone Alert! Program, the nation's first voluntary episodic emissions control program. This program reflects our philosophy of seeking voluntary, common sense measures that are most effective in improving air quality, rather than the command and control approach too often used by the state and federal regulators.

Let me also say that both NARC and I recognize the importance of improving air quality, and we support actions to maintain and improve the health of all citizens when such actions are based on sound scientific and economic principles. In light of this, we are especially concerned about the conflicting opinions of the scientific community regarding the scientific basis for establishing new Ozone and Particulate Matter standards. There appears to be no scientific consensus that changing the standards at this time will result in significant public health benefits. Indeed, the scientific testimony presented previously to this committee, and the recently revised EPA exposure and risk assessment fundings, underscore this lack of consensus.

EPA has stated that the proposed changes are policy-based rather than science-based. EPA also has stated that it believes existing clean air law requires that its analysis of the impact of the changes be based solely on the health aspects, and that adverse economic consequences that may result from the changes may not be considered in setting the standard. In light of these concerns, we feel that considerable additional research, including additional epidemiological studies, are necessary before new ozone and particulate matter standards are promulgated. Specifically, future epidemiological studies should focus on the interaction between different pollutants and whether these effects are additive, synergistic or antagonistic.

The Clean Air Act has clearly had a demonstrable impact on reducing pollutants, thus improving air quality for all Americans. If EPA imposes its proposed ozone standards, the number of non-attainment regions nationally will increase, by EPA's own estimates, from 68 areas currently to 185 areas - nearly a three-fold increase. EPA's action of designating additional areas as non-attainment will do nothing to improve air quality in our most polluted regions. In fact, these existing non-attainment regions are having great difficulty in achieving the current standards, so forcing a mid-course change at this time will only delay and disrupt both public and private initiatives designed to achieve the objectives of the Clean Air Act. Furthermore, we are not convinced that the technology is in place, or even close at hand, to help us meet these proposed standards.

With regard to the Proposed PM-2.5 standards, we believe that EPA lacks sufficient scientific evidence to justify revising the existing Particulate Matter standard. Although the scientific evidence does suggest some preliminary correlation of health effects, it is as of yet inconclusive. The current studies have not clearly defined public health effects from fine particles well below the existing standard. Additionally, the significant uncertainty and limited research regarding ambient concentrations of PM 2.5 due to the limited number of ambient air monitors in place support our concerns about the addition of this standard. We feel that in light of these concerns, which were substantiated at previous subcommittee hearings, considerable further study is necessary before an additional particulate matter standard is promulgated. To this end, we are pleased to note that EPA has requested $28.4 million for particulate matter research.

Our experience in Tulsa has shown us that the goal of improving air quality is both worthy and attainable if approached in a common sense manner. In addition to our Ozone Alert! Program, Tulsa, by formal agreement with EPA and a host of other federal, state and local partners, has become the nation's first Flexible Attainment Region (FAR). The FAR agreement enables us to implement a locally crafted strategy to reduce emissions, and gives us adequate time to evaluate results before having to implement more stringent measures to meet our goals. This avoids the "one size fits all" command and control approach which historically has been imposed by EPA. The FAR agreement came about because our local governments and private industry are committed to working together to improve air quality. The necessary ingredients to make this initiative work are flexibility and common sense. When we are allowed to develop our own program and local "buy-in" is assured, the willingness to commit the necessary financial and political capital to achieve results is more readily accepted.

Recently, one of our refineries in Tulsa was the subject of an EPA enforcement action. The refinery, as part of its penalty, proposed to reduce the Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) of its gasoline to 8.0 psi and pay a significant financial payment to EPA. Refineries and pipeline companies in the Tulsa area voluntarily reduce the RVP of their gasoline to 8.2 psi during the ozone season. The federal mandated level is 9.0 psi. We are told that the initial reaction of EPA was to reject the proposal and to require the refinery to identify another project to undertake as a Supplemental Environmental Project. The net effect on the Tulsa area would have been a net reduction measured in pounds of emissions rather than the tons needed to maintain our attainment status. We expressed our concern to EPA and, thankfully, common sense prevailed. We understand that the agency has reversed its position, has accepted the 8.0 psi RVP, and has also directed that part of the fine go to the Tulsa area to finance free bus rides during the upcoming ozone season. We think this action by EPA will give us a significant boost in meeting our air quality goals. The action makes sense -- a violation is enforced, and citizens -- rather than just the U.S. Treasury will directly benefit.

In essence, improving air quality can be achieved without severely disrupting the economy, and without increasing unfunded mandates. The imposition of standards, which even EPA states may be unachievable, will severely dampen the enthusiasm needed to maintain the momentum for improvement. Moreover, in the current ISTEA reauthorization debate there is discussion about eliminating the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program. Without the CMAQ program, we would end up losing an important tool necessary to meet the long range goals of improved air quality. I would like to point out, however, that the current ISTEA legislation does not provide for areas that are in attainment, like Tulsa, to receive CMAQ funds to undertake air quality improvement programs. We would recommend that consideration be given to expanding the eligibility for receiving CMAQ funds to those areas that are in attainment that have a formal program in place designed to reduce emissions. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, we believe that more thought and study must be accomplished before the standards are changed. The potential impact is great, and we must have more certainty and consensus before a major change, such as this, is initiated. Progress is being made in improving air quality and more will come if common sense and flexibility prevail.

I appreciate being invited to participate in the Subcommittee's hearings. On behalf of NARC, we look forward to working with the committee in your important task.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I respectfully request that my full statement be made a part of the official hearing record; and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.