By Jeremy P. Jacobs
Democrats on Capitol Hill today celebrated the 21st anniversary of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, saying the landmark law helped the environment without hurting the economy.
At an event that featured balloons and a birthday cake, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the original author of the bill, said today is "a very happy day for me."
Dingell pointed to significant reductions in air toxics but added that he wished he had been able to make the bill more far-reaching.
"It has been a great statute, and it has worked," Dingell said. "There were things wrong with it, and we probably could have done better, but I'm not sure that would have been politically possible."
Others, including Delaware Sen. Tom Carper (D), noted that the bill's bipartisan support -- it received 89 votes in the Senate -- would be all but impossible to achieve in Congress today.
"This is a celebration of a law that has greatly improved the health and lives of everyone in this country," Carper said. "We are all better for it."
Carper addressed current economic criticisms of U.S. EPA's air toxics rules.
"Our economy didn't take a slide," he said. "In fact, the opposite is true."
He noted that since President George H.W. Bush signed the law, electricity rates have stayed constant while the economy has grown by 60 percent. He added that for every dollar spent installing new controls, there has been $30 in benefits through reduced health care costs and increased worker productivity.
Carol Browner, the former EPA administrator under President Clinton and former White House energy and environmental adviser to President Obama, called the legislation a "hugely important law."
Browner specifically pointed to two aspects of the legislation. First, she said, Congress recognized that "we should use science to set standards."
That allowed her to set standards for ozone and fine particulate matter that EPA defended all the way to the Supreme Court, where it won a unanimous decision.
Second, Congress also "recognized that we should set standards even if we didn't know how to meet them," Browner said. Consequently, the law relied on innovation and ingenuity to come up with new technologies to reach standards.
The Democrats also focused some criticism on Republicans in both the House and Senate for legislation aimed at undoing Clean Air Act rules. In particular, they pointed to legislation passed by the House GOP that would undo several EPA air rules, including limits on coal ash pollution, standards on cement kilns and limits on mercury and other toxics.
They also pointed to Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) failed attempt last week to strike down EPA rules for toxics that cross state lines (E&ENews PM, Nov. 10).
"We are in Washington, a town that propagates an immense amount of baloney," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). "And we are at a time when there is a lot of baloney being propagated about the Clean Air Act."