Chairman Carper’s Opening Statement for Hearing on Air Quality Monitoring Legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, July 13, 2022, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing to examine S. 1345, the Comprehensive National Mercury Monitoring Act; S. 2476, the Environmental Justice Air Quality Monitoring Act of 2021; and S. ____, the Public Health Air Quality Act.

Below is the opening statement of Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“We are here today to examine three bills that are intended to improve our nation’s antiquated air quality monitoring system and better protect Americans from air pollution.

“Since enacting the Clean Air Act more than 50 years ago, our nation has made great progress in cleaning up the air we breathe without harming economic growth. Soot and smog pollution in the United States decreased by nearly 80 percent since 1970. Over that same period, our gross domestic product grew by more than 250 percent.

“The benefits of clean air far outweigh the costs, and it’s not hard to understand why — clean air is good for human health, it’s good for our planet, and it’s good for our economy.

“As my colleagues know, I often like to say that in everything I do, I know I can do better. The same is true with respect to reducing air pollution. Despite our successes, we still have far too many Americans who are negatively impacted by air pollution, especially those from low-income and historically disadvantaged communities. According to the EPA, nonwhite children are much more likely to die from air pollution than white children in the United States today.

“Why are environmental justice communities at risk? One answer is proximity. More often than not, those in our nation’s environmental justice communities live near, or downwind of, facilities that emit harmful air pollution. These ‘fenceline communities,’ as they are known, bear the immediate impacts of exposure to harmful pollutants and the burden of the cumulative health effects that can arise from repeated, long-term exposure to air pollution.

“But you don’t have to live near a source of air pollution to suffer its consequences. When emitted into the air, persistent air toxics like mercury, can fall into our waterways and bioaccumulate in fish over decades — long after a source may clean up or close down.

“Many Americans today do not even know that they are being exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution. There are real gaps in what the federal government knows, as well. 

“Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) will testify on its troubling 2020 study on the state of our nation’s air monitoring systems. The report found that our air monitoring systems are woefully out of date and under-resourced. According to GAO’s findings, these out-of-date systems have left state air quality managers buying replacement parts on eBay. Why? The air monitoring technology that states are using is no longer being manufactured. We continue to rely on yesterday’s systems to address today’s problems.

“GAO also found what we have long known: while the health threats posed by air toxics are well-documented, the data we have on where, when, and how they are released into our air are not well-documented.

“This is unacceptable. We can and must do more to support federal, state, and local officials who are tasked with maintaining and improving our air monitoring systems.

“That brings us to the legislation we are considering here today. For more than a decade now, I have worked alongside Senator Collins on the Comprehensive National Mercury Monitoring Act.

“Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin that is especially dangerous to pregnant women and developing children. An estimated 100,000 to 200,000 children born in our country each year are exposed to levels of mercury in the womb that are high enough to impair neurological development.

“In the last decade, we know that there have been more mercury consumption fish advisories in U.S. lakes and rivers than all other pollutants combined. However, we still have data gaps on where mercury persists in our environment.

“Our legislation fills in the gaps by establishing a first-ever national mercury monitoring network to track long-term trends in mercury concentrations in communities and ecosystems across the country. Under our legislation, the public would have free access to the network’s findings — empowering communities with the information that they need to better protect themselves from mercury pollution. I am grateful that my partner on this effort, Senator Collins, is joining us today to speak more on our legislation, which she leads.

“We will also examine Senator Duckworth’s and Congresswoman Lisa Blunt-Rochester’s legislation, the Public Health Air Quality Act, of which I am also a cosponsor. This legislation would upgrade and expand our nation’s outdated air monitoring network, which includes providing immediate monitoring for air toxics in fenceline communities experiencing high cancer rates and other health impacts.

“Finally, we will review the Environmental Justice Air Quality Monitoring Act, sponsored by Senator Markey. This legislation would help ensure communities have access to relevant, local air quality information. Our current air monitoring systems do not always provide accurate, localized data, which makes it harder for communities to assess their exposure to certain toxics.

“All three bills are intended to help Americans understand who is being exposed to air pollutants and who is not. These investments in our air quality monitoring systems are investments in healthier communities and a stronger economy — a win-win.

“We look forward to hearing more from our colleagues and our witnesses on the benefits of these important pieces of legislation.”