WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing, “Oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I’d like to begin my remarks this morning by welcoming Administrator Wheeler and thanking him for joining us today.
“These are not just sobering times. For a lot of Americans and our neighbors around the world, they are largely devoid of hope. Indeed, they are scary. I was asked in an interview earlier this week what provides me with inspiration today. I responded without hesitation, ‘It’s the selfless service of ordinary people.’ I want to begin this morning by talking about some of them.
“Thus far, at least 14 Capitol Police offers have tested positive for COVID-19. Some Members of Congress, their families and our staffs have, as well. These beautiful buildings here on Capitol were opened this morning by people who serve our country by keeping us safe, by keeping the lights on, cleaning the office spaces we occupy, making the food that sustains us or working behind the scenes to make events like this hearing possible.
“None of these unseen public servants are guaranteed to work in a stunning room like this one which allows all of us to remain at least six feet apart, with face masks on and hand sanitizer at the ready. Many of these unsung public servants have young children, but no options for school or daycare for their children when duty calls. Few, if any, of them have the option to tele-work. If Senators are here, the staff that help keep these buildings open, operating and safe must be here, as well.
“They serve our country, each in their own way, just as we do, and they deserve our gratitude and our protection. So on behalf of all 100 United States Senators from every corner of this country, let me begin this hearing with a sincere and heartfelt thank you from all of us.
“Now turning to today’s hearing, let me again welcome Mr. Wheeler. Ironically, when we last welcomed you before this committee, we were in the midst of a government shutdown. Today, we’re in the midst of a pandemic, unlike anything we’ve seen in a hundred years.
“During more normal times, we would have been holding a budget hearing months ago, shortly after the proposed budget was released. For those who may not recall, the proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2021 cut EPA’s budget by 27 percent, a reduction of $2.4 billion from last year’s enacted appropriation.
“Funding EPA at that level would severely hamper programs that are important to protect water quality and drinking water, programs that are needed during the pandemic to ensure people have clean water to wash their hands and properly sanitize. And, at a time when this pandemic is costing tens of millions of people their jobs, that budget would leave EPA with its smallest workforce in 30 years, while funding the agency at a level in real dollars not seen since the 1980s.
“While EPA is not on the front lines of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency has a vital role to play, and it requires funding that’s commensurate with that role. EPA is charged with evaluating disinfectants used to keep us safe. It is charged with undertaking environmental research that can help us better understand the way this disease and others like it are impacted by weather, climate, and pollution. Perhaps most important of all, the agency is charged with protecting everyone in this country from drinking unsafe water and breathing unsafe air. When it comes to that important mission, regrettably, too often, the agency has done the opposite of what it should be during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Earlier today, I released a report entitled, ‘A Pandemic of Pollution.’ I ask unanimous consent to submit it for the record.
“This report paints a grim picture. It describes the clear links that have been found between climate change and the likelihood of future pandemics. It also describes the clear evidence that other coronaviruses like SARS were more likely to cause death in those who were also exposed to air pollution. This report also documents some of the emerging scientific evidence that COVID-19 is more likely to kill people whose pre-existing conditions are worsened by breathing more heavily polluted air.
“We already know that lower-income and minority communities – who face more air and water pollution than others – are also suffering the most from COVID-19. Here in this city, for example, African Americans account for almost 80 percent of COVID-19-related deaths, while making up less than half of the population.
“Yet, despite this, EPA has not spent these past months standing up an aggressive research program to better understand the nexus between the pandemic and pollution, or strengthening environmental justice programs to examine the clear need to respond forcefully in frontline communities. Instead, EPA has spent much of this year proposing and finalizing rules that a lot of us believe will cause even more air pollution in the future.
“Let me provide a few examples. EPA’s own analysis shows that its roll-back of the clean car rule will actually kill more people prematurely because of air pollution than the number of people whose lives the rule purports to save. In fact, the Environmental Defense Fund estimated that there would be more than 18,000 premature deaths caused by this roll-back. That’s more than half the people who live in Dover, Delaware, my state’s capital.
“Here’s another example. The elimination of the legal underpinnings of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards could ultimately result in thousands of additional premature deaths. And, here’s a third example. According to EPA’s scientific advisory committee that the agency has disbanded, the failure to strengthen the standards for particulate matter could kill as many as 12,500 people prematurely every year.
“And to add insult to injury, EPA is actually using the COVID-19 pandemic now to justify its proposal to allow the continued sale of antiquated wood stoves. Why is that important? Residential wood stoves in this country emit five times more soot pollution than the U.S. petroleum refineries, cement manufacturers and pulp and paper plants combined. Five times more. Think about that!
“The new report I released earlier today found that the rollbacks that EPA has taken just since March 1 of this year could kill tens of thousands of people prematurely each year. These rollbacks are, in fact, a pandemic of pollution that – rather than attacking – the Environmental Protection Agency is actually contributing to, all in the middle of an actual pandemic. Heaven help us!
“Last night, EPA issued a press release in response to my report, calling it, quote, ‘misleading’ and, quote, ‘political propaganda.’ Yet, in that release, EPA failed to provide a single mention of air pollution, and did not even attempt to address or rebut my report’s fundamental conclusion: that the dangerous air pollution roll-backs that EPA has pursued in just the past two months will kill thousands of people, and that the potential link between air pollution and COVID-19 could make our ongoing battle against this pandemic all the more difficult and even more deadly. For thousands of people, it could make this heartbreaking reality even more tragic.
“This is not about politics, this is about people—and EPA owes the American people some answers.”