(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
Today's hearing will examine the critically important steps that the Obama administration is taking to strengthen the ozone standard, which will save lives and protect the health of our children and families.
We know that ground-level ozone, often referred to as smog, results in dangerous air pollution that is extremely harmful to human health. It can lead to cardiovascular disease, respiratory ailments like asthma and emphysema, and premature death. And it is our youngest and oldest generations - as well as those who spend the most time outdoors - who are the most vulnerable to the impacts of smog pollution. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are nearly 26 million people in the U.S. who have asthma, including 7.1 million children.
The National Ambient Air Quality Standards are the backbone of the Clean Air Act, and they set the maximum level of an air pollutant, such as ozone, that is safe for us to breathe. Setting an appropriate standard is crucial to protecting the health of millions of Americans. Everyone has a right to know that the air they breathe is safe -- and right now, the science says it is not.
The Clean Air Act requires that these standards be set solely on the basis of the latest available health science. To ensure the health impacts of air pollution continue to be addressed, EPA is required to review the standards every five years to make sure they are up to date. Despite what some of my Republican colleagues may try to claim today, scientists overwhelmingly agree that EPA needs to adopt a stricter standard to protect the health of the American people, especially our children and the elderly. We have known since 2008 that the current ozone standard does not provide the necessary health safeguards.
Last year, EPA proposed updating and strengthening the ozone standard from 75 parts per billion to a more protective range, between 65 and 70 parts per billion. It is also considering an even more protective standard of 60 parts per billion.
And the EPA is doing its job to protect public health. Just yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld EPA's determinations concerning which regions in the U.S. have met its existing ozone standard. The Court found that EPA had complied with the Constitution, had reasonably interpreted the Clean Air Act, and in many cases exceeded its obligation to engage in reasoned decision-making.
I often say, if people can't breathe, they can't go to work or school. Ozone pollution has been proven to cause thousands of lost school days and work days each year, as well as an increased number of asthma attacks and bronchitis cases, and more emergency room visits and hospital admissions.
The American people strongly support a tighter ozone standard. Last November, the American Lung Association found that 68 percent of voters nationwide support strengthening the ozone standards, including 54 percent of Republicans.
We will also discuss three bills today that would have negative impacts on our air quality and public health. These bills would delay the health protections of the ozone standards, block implementation of an ozone standard altogether, or create new loopholes for how air pollution data is assessed.
I will continue to work with my colleagues to fight any efforts to undermine our environmental laws that protect the most vulnerable populations. No one's health should be threatened by the air they breathe, especially our children's.
I would like to extend a special welcome to one of today's witnesses, Larry Greene, the Executive Director of the Sacramento Air Quality Management District. California is on the front lines in the battle against air pollution, and he will testify about the tremendous successes our state has had in implementing new air pollution standards.
For example, in 1976, there were 166 days when health advisories were issued in Southern California to urge people with asthma and other people with lung sensitivities to stay indoors. In 37 years, the number of smog-related health advisories issued in Southern California dropped from 166 days in 1976 to one day in 2013. And in March of this year, a peer-reviewed study by researchers at the University of Southern California found that reducing air pollution leads to improved lung development and respiratory function in school-aged children.
Environmental safeguards have improved our quality of life and made our children safer and healthier, and we need to continue down this path. I look forward to hearing the testimony of today's witnesses.