EPW Hearing Statement: Clean Air & Nuclear Safety Subcommittee: Implementation of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety held the hearing, “Making Implementation of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ground-Level Ozone Attainable: Legislative Hearing on S.263 and S.452.” Below is the opening statement of Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, as prepared for delivery:

“Summer is almost here, and that means kids outside swimming, playing baseball, and eating ice cream on the patio or at the beach. Unfortunately, in too many parts of our country, summer also means smog and exposure to deadly air pollution. For decades, we have known there is a link between smog – also known as ozone pollution – from uncontrolled power plants, automobiles, and other sources to serious health problems, such as asthma attacks, heart attacks and other respiratory ailments. More recently, medical professionals have also linked ozone pollution to early deaths. Ozone pollution occurs most frequently when kids most want to be outside playing – during the hot, sunny days of summer. Children are also most at risk to ozone pollution because their lungs and immune systems are still developing. Parents who have watched their kids with asthma suffer on high ozone days know this better than anyone does.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control, 6.3 million children in this country have been diagnosed with asthma. That’s 6.3 million children who worry – especially during high ozone days – if they will make it to their inhaler in time if they have an asthma attack. That’s 6.3 million children who have to restrict their daily activities and often visit the hospital during high ozone days – keeping their parents from going to work and increasing health care costs for all.

“To protect all of our children from the most harmful and common air pollutants – like ozone – Congress required the EPA in the 1970 Clean Air Act to set ambient air quality standards – known as NAAQS. Congress also wanted to make sure these air pollution health standards reflected the best science available, which is why Congress required the EPA to review the NAAQS every five years. The first NAAQS to cover ozone pollution was established in 1971. Since then, it has been reviewed and strengthened over the years based on the evolving science.

“In 2015, the EPA finished its congressionally mandated review of the 2008 ozone health standard. After reviewing more than a thousand scientific studies, the EPA concluded that the 2008 ozone health standard was too weak and no longer adequately protected public health. The EPA’s rule is essentially a statement of fact – in order to protect the 6.3 million children with asthma, we need less ozone pollution in our air.

“Fortunately, many of today’s biggest emitters of ozone pollution – such as old coal plants – are already scheduled to be cleaned up. This means the costs of compliance are not as high as they might have been two, four or six years ago. If Administrator Scott Pruitt and Congress keep the clean air protections on the books today intact, only fourteen counties outside of California will not meet the new ozone standard by 2025. That’s fourteen out of a total of two thousand and nine hundred and forty-nine counties that are in the United States, excluding California.  

“However, instead of working together to help the remaining communities meet the new ozone health standard – this Administration is doing the opposite. Not only is EPA Administrator Pruitt working on rolling back federal clean air protections that will put more communities at risk, this Administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget slashes critical clean air resources to states and local governments.

“Congress is not doing much more to be helpful. The bills that are the subject of today’s hearing direct EPA and the states to ignore the health science for ten years before having to think about cleaning up. That is a little like taking your children to the doctor to see if they are sick and the doctor waiting ten years to call you back with the test results. Most parents would find that behavior unacceptable. It’s also unacceptable behavior when EPA is doing it. These delays only serve to harm the 6.3 million children who have asthma today, many of them living in downwind states in the Eastern U.S. at the end of what many of us call ‘America’s tailpipe.’ 

“Our nation’s clean air protections have allowed our country to have remarkable progress in cleaning up our air and, at the same time, we’ve grown our economy. As you can see on this chart – which is currently on the EPA’s website – we’ve reduced pollutants, like ozone, by 63 percent since 1980, while growing our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 147 percent. While progress continues to be made, that doesn’t mean we should stop now. We still have a long way to go in many parts of America. Or to paraphrase Robert Frost, ‘We have miles to go before we sleep.’”

“Today, I’m happy to introduce Secretary Shawn Garvin to our committee. This not his first time testifying before Congress, but his first time before our Committee. Shawn was recently confirmed to the position of Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control – known as DNREC – by the Delaware State Senate in March of this year. This agency is tasked with protecting and managing the state’s natural resources and protecting public health and the environment.

“Shawn has years of experience serving the people of the First State and addressing clean air issues, especially the unique challenges that downwind states like Delaware face. In November 2009, he was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as Administrator of Region 3 for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, overseeing the agency’s work in the Mid-Atlantic – which includes Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. During his service at the EPA, he saw how this great country can rebound from one of its greatest economic downturns in history, can lower energy costs at the meter and the pump for consumers, and can implement clean air protections that protect public health and our climate – all in the span of eight years.

“From his time at the EPA, and now at DNREC, Shawn has first-hand knowledge of the impacts ozone pollution can have on downwind states – especially since much of the region he oversaw makes up what I like to call ‘America’s Tailpipe.’ Before he was named Regional Administrator, Secretary Garvin served as the senior state and congressional liaison for EPA Region 3. Prior to his service with the EPA, he served as an aide to then-U.S. Senator Joe Biden, and also was Executive Assistant to former New Castle County Executive Dennis Greenhouse. Secretary Garvin is a Delaware native and a Blue Hen – a graduate of the University of Delaware.  I welcome him to this committee.”