Statement of Senator James M. Jeffords
for the Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change and Nuclear Safety
hearing on S.1265, the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act I am pleased that the Subcommittee is holding a hearing today on S.1265, the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act of 2005. I applaud the work of Senators Voinovich and Carper on this measure. I am a cosponsor of this legislation because I believe that the Federal government must do more to protect public health from toxic diesel emissions, particularly from the old, polluting diesel engines that are in use today. This bipartisan legislation has already been included in the Senate passed energy bill by an overwhelming vote. Several thousand people are dying every year because of exposure to diesel exhaust. This is especially true in highly urbanized and poorer areas of the country where people often have the least supportive public health and medical services. These are people who can least afford exposure to this hazardous mix of cancer causing agents and respiratory irritants. According to a study done by the Clean Air Task Force, ably represented by Mr. Schneider today, over two-thirds of U.S. counties have a cancer risk greater than 100 in a million from diesel exhaust. Residents of eleven urban counties face a diesel cancer risk ten times that high. There are millions of diesel engines operating on our highways, railroads and harbors, as well as generating emergency electricity, and moving non-road vehicles and equipment to build new roads and buildings. These engines are essential to our economic life. But, as other sources are being controlled, diesels are becoming a greater share of the air quality burden in many areas. They contribute significantly to non-attainment of the fine particulate matter or PM 2.5 standard. Some of the damage from existing diesels will decline as the nation moves toward lower sulfur diesel fuel in late 2006. However, the existing millions of diesel engines will continue chugging along for years if not decades before they are replaced with cleaner, less polluting technology. That is why this bill is necessary. This bill authorizes one billion dollars to retrofit these old engines and promotes development of cleaner technologies. That is really just a drop in the bucket of what is necessary and what is warranted given the huge benefits to public health. Unfortunately, this Congress is poised yet again to cut the President’s gradually dwindling budget request for diesel retrofit activities. Even the clean school bus retrofit program which everyone supports will barely get enough to keep the wheels going around. A voluntary, incentive-based approach to the problem of diesel emissions is preferred by many. But, if the incentives are inadequate or unfunded, then it may be time to consider giving EPA or the states sufficiently clear authority to impose tighter emission standards on the existing fleet of diesel engines. There is very little question that the benefits would outweigh the costs of such regulation. That fact is made even plainer by the growing scientific evidence that the current PM standard must be more stringent to protect public health. Finally, I would like to note for the record that EPA’s very serious delay in proposing a rule to implement the fine particulate matter standard is delaying the states’ efforts to protect public health and achieve that standard. There is no excuse for this unacceptable delay. The states may very well choose to adopt diesel retrofit efforts like those promoted by this bill. But EPA’s tardiness in completing this important rule and guidance is slowing down clean technology development and delaying very significant health benefits. Today’s diesel emissions are toxic and contribute to non-attainment. We should move to reduce them on every front.