Statement of Senator Jim Jeffords
EPW Clean Air Subcommittee Hearing
Ozone Air Quality Standards The National Ambient Air Quality Standards are the cornerstone of the Clean Air Act. Their implementation is a matter of life and death for millions of Americans. The EPA itself has stated that “batteries of scientific studies have linked particulate matter, especially fine particles…with a series of significant health problems, including premature death.” Researchers at Harvard University have concluded that approximately 70,000 Americans die prematurely as a result of air pollution. The primary cause of these deaths is fine particulate matter, which is emitted from sources such as power plants, diesel fuel combustion and other sources. However, recent evidence also indicates that ozone contributes to premature mortality as well. Other health effects, such as increased risk of stroke, increased asthma, and other respiratory symptoms requiring hospitalization are also caused by air pollution. The National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter and Ozone are necessary to protect against these effects and to protect public health “with an adequate margin of safety.” Although EPA recognized these facts in 1997 and set appropriate standards, we remain on the threshold of implementing such standards. The fact that we have taken nearly a decade to move forward is a shameful fact. Tens of thousands of Americans have suffered in the meantime and will continue to suffer, or even die, each year that we delay. There are many reasons for these delays, but we must not forget that industry challenged these standards and EPA was forced to go all the way to the Supreme Court to defend them. Now many of these same parties seek to further delay implementation of the standards. Since the Supreme Court decision in 2001, EPA has moved very slowly to develop the rules that states need to implement these standards. EPA has only yesterday finalized its complete set of ozone implementation rules and only last month did it propose a PM Implementation Rule—after that rule sat at the Office of Management and Budget for nearly a year. That leaves us without a complete set of implementation rules more than eight years after the standards were first set. At the same time, we have seen numerous attempts to substantially weaken the Clean Air Act. These include changes to New Source Review that allow legions of large polluting sources to continue emitting without controls, changes to the mercury rules that allow toxic levels of mercury to be emitted and traded, and a host of implementation rules that postpone key local controls until 2015 or beyond. The net result of these policies is that millions of Americans will continue to suffer the ill effects of air pollution, including premature death, for many years to come. It is high time that we implement the standards that the Supreme Court unanimously upheld nearly five years ago. It is high time that EPA provides states with the tools they need to continue cleaning up the air. It is high time that EPA stopped looking to undermine key provisions of the Clean Air Act and seek to enforce those requirements to the full extent of their abilities. There may be some at this hearing that believe we need additional time to implement these standards and that we should put priority on keeping the costs of air pollution control as low as possible in the short term. To them I say we cannot afford those delays. We cannot afford to continue to expose our citizens to increased death and chronic health effects from air pollution. All of the EPA analyses show that the benefits of controlling these pollutants greatly outweigh the costs of clean-up. During the 1990s we made substantial progress in cleaning up the air during a period of great economic growth. That record demonstrates that we can have a healthy economy and clean air at the same time. I am not willing to sacrifice the health of millions of Americans based on the faulty premise that clean air costs jobs. Clean air creates jobs and saves lives. Others may say we need certainty of requirements before we can begin to take action. To them I say there is no certainty in strategies of delay and waiting for others to reduce, there is only certainty in committing now to getting the job done and requiring everyone to do their part. We should also recognize that areas that fail to control local sources of pollution and that are waiting for national and regional measures to work are consigning both their own citizens and the citizens of areas downwind to additional health effects. Vermont is such a downwind state. Last summer, schools in my state were forced to postpone sports events due to air pollution, most of which came from outside the state. EPA’s plan would be for states like Vermont to continue to receive dirty air from other states for many years to come. That result is unacceptable. This is no time to contemplate further delay. We need to move forward as quickly as possible in implementing these standards. We need additional reductions well beyond those proposed by EPA. Even under EPA’s plans, many will continue to breathe unhealthy air after 2020. At that point, the Clean Air Act will be half a century old. I believe we must work harder to realize the promise that this Committee made in the original Clean Air Act of 1970, when it directed that we would attain Clean Air standards “as expeditiously as practicable” and that we would “protect public health with an adequate margin of safety.” That promise, which remains in the law today, cannot be kept by plans that allow millions of Americans to breathe unhealthy air for decades to come. Finally, I want to note that we continue to allow dangerous emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and our continued delay in that regard risks untold consequences, to human health, to our environment and to the well-being of mankind as a whole. That situation must change, and it must change soon, if we are to fulfill our obligation to leave this world in better shape than when we found it.