Statement of Senator Barbara Boxer
Full Committee Hearing: "The Clean Air Act and Public Health"
June 15, 2011
(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
I called this hearing to conduct oversight on one of the most successful and significant public health statutes in our nation's history, the Clean Air Act.
Before President Richard Nixon signed the Clean Air Act into law in 1970, the nation's air was heavily polluted in many places.
For example, a fog of pollution covered Donora, Pennsylvania, for five days in 1948. Records indicate that 20 people died, 6,000 people were sickened, and hundreds were evacuated as a result of the pollution.
In another tragic case, the eastern United States was blanketed by harmful smog in 1966. Scientists and researchers eventually concluded that the smog caused the deaths of 24 people per day over a period of six days.
The Clean Air Act, which has deep bipartisan roots, changed that. President Richard Nixon recognized the value of the Clean Air Act when he said: "I think that 1970 will be known as the year of the beginning, in which we really began to move on the problems of clean air...for the future generations of America."
When President George Bush signed the Clean Air Act Amendments in 1990, he said: "I take great pleasure in signing [the legislation] as a demonstration to the American people of my determination that each and every American shall breathe clean air...."
Now, 40 years after the Clean Air Act was created, many of the benefits to public health are clear and measurable. Let me show you how successful this landmark environmental law has been in protecting children and families in my State of California.
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 35 years, the number of smog-related health advisories issued in Southern California dropped from 166 days in 1976 to zero days in 2010.
While the Clean Air Act has dramatically improved health safeguards, more work remains to be done. A 2011 report by the American Lung Association shows that 154 million people live in areas with levels of toxic soot and smog pollution that current science demonstrates is dangerous.
Last year, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on an oily, black rain of pollution from an electric utility company that coated a local community in 2006. Because of the potential impact of the pollution on public health, local farmers were told that livestock should not graze in their fields, and families were told not eat fruits and vegetables from their own gardens.
In 2008, USA Today ran a series on toxic air pollution near our nation's schools. I asked EPA Administrator Jackson to help monitor for such threats, and now the Agency is focused on addressing sources of toxic air pollution near schools.
The EPA is also helping my constituents in Mecca, CA, where an odor emanating from a soil recycling plant has made people sick, particularly students and teachers at two nearby schools.
Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is required to strengthen protections if scientific data indicates that pollution adversely impacts public health, including children's health. Recently, EPA proposed much-needed federal safeguards to reduce toxic air pollution from old power plants by requiring the use of modern pollution controls. These proposed safeguards would reduce mercury, lead, and chromium, which are known to cause cancer and birth defects.
When EPA reduces toxic air pollution, it helps families and children in communities across our country. EPA recently conducted a Congressionally-required, peer-reviewed analysis of the Clean Air Act that showed overwhelming health benefits now and into the future. The annual benefits by 2020 will include preventing:
• More than 230,000 premature deaths;
• 200,000 cases of heart attacks;
• 2.4 million cases of asthma attacks;
• 120,000 emergency room visits; and
• 5.4 million lost school days.
In contrast to the unsupported claims by some polluters who argue that health threats from mercury and other air pollutants are "exaggerated," we will hear today from EPA Administrator Jackson and representatives from the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Nurses Association, and the American Thoracic Society, who are experts on the issue. These witnesses will describe the critical steps that have been taken to reduce dangerous air pollution, and the important work that remains to be done.
Before I turn to Ranking Member Inhofe, I would like to personally thank EPA Administrator Jackson for the Agency's actions to help residents in Mecca, CA, who fell ill because of noxious odors from a waste recycling facility. Two weeks ago, I visited with children, teachers, and parents from Saul Martinez Elementary School who were adversely impacted by pollution affecting the community, and I am pleased that EPA is now working with the state and local governments to address the situation.
# # #