Statements and Speeches

Senator Carper Defends EPA's Efforts to Reduce Harmful Toxics and Protect Public Health

Measure to Repeal Mercury Air and Toxics Standards Fails

Jun 20 2012

WASHINGTON – Today, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Clean Air, commended his Senate colleagues for defeating a measure to repeal critical new standards needed to better protect our nation’s air and water from mercury and other harmful pollutants. S.J.Res.37, a joint resolution of disapproval regarding the Environmental Protection Agency's mercury air and toxics standards, was defeated by a vote of 46 to 53.

His remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow:

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of different jobs – newspaper boy, naval flight officer, governor of my state – just to name a few. But my most cherished and most important job has been the role of father. I am blessed with three wonderful sons who make me proud and thankful every day. Celebrating Father’s Day this past weekend, I was reminded that a major motivator in my life has been my love for my children and my desire to make the world better a better place for them.

Today, I am reminded just how important this clean air fight is for my children and for children across the country. Unbeknownst to a lot of us, our children actually listen to what we say. More importantly, they watch everything we do. They notice the choices we make and the company we keep.

They hear us talk about playing by the rules and about treating others the way we would like to be treated. They watch carefully to see if we actually practice what we preach. If we play fair. And, if we really try to follow the Golden Rule as we go about our lives. They hear us talk about chores, homework, and responsibility, but they watch to see if we actually pitch in and do our fair share.

It strikes me that much of our country’s ongoing efforts to clean up air pollution is about playing fair and doing our share. In my home state of Delaware, we’ve done our homework and worked hard. As a result, we’ve made great strides in cleaning up our own air pollution. Unfortunately, a number of the upwind states to the west of us have not made the same commitment to clean air.

In fact, 90 percent of Delaware’s air pollution comes from our neighboring states. This pollution endangers our hearts, lungs and brains and it costs us a great deal in medical bills and in the quality of our lives. Some of this air pollution – like poisonous mercury – settles into our streams and our fish, threatening the health of this generation and generations to come. That doesn’t sound like the Golden Rule to me. Even the First State is doing our part to protect our air and public health, Some of our neighbors are not, yet those of us who live at the end up America’s tailpipe end up suffering. It isn’t fair.

Fortunately, federal clean air protections – established by the Clean Air Act – have been created to right that wrong. These protections were forged by both Democrats and Republicans who believed that playing fair and doing our share when it comes to cleaning up America’s air is profoundly important.

The Clean Air Act, signed by President Richard Nixon in 1970 and updated in 1990 by President George H. W. Bush, was approved each time by Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support. In fact, many in this Congress on both sides of the aisle supported the passing of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. Those members include me and friends Senators Barbara Boxer and Jim Inhofe.

This landmark law to protect public health and the environment has proven time and again to be a success. In fact, I’m told that the Clean Air Act delivers $30 of health savings for every dollar we invest in clean air. Not a bad return on our investment. Moreover, the Clean Air Act has helped create hundreds of thousands of jobs in new technologies, as Americans develop clean air solutions that our businesses export around the globe. The bipartisan vision embodied in our nation’s clean air laws has been translated into healthier, longer and more productive lives for millions of Americans.

While much of the Clean Air Act has been in place improving health for years, some key aspects of the law have never been implemented. This includes requirements to reduce deadly mercury and other toxic air emissions from some of our oldest and dirtiest coal-fired plants.

These toxic air pollutants are known to cause cancer, neurological damage, and other health concerns.

One example of particular concern is mercury. Up to 10 percent of childbearing women in this country have unsafe levels of mercury in their bodies. Today, all 50 states have mercury fish consumption advisories. In fact, there are more fish consumption advisories in the U.S. for mercury than for all other contaminants combined.

Uncontrolled coal-fired utilities are our largest sources of mercury in this country. Fortunately, current control technology can dramatically reduce mercury emissions and mercury in the local environment. This is why Sen. Alexander, several of our colleagues, and I have been trying for years to reduce these emissions through legislation. This is also why 18 states have their own power plant mercury standards. Yet until recently, we lacked a federal standard.

Last December, after decades of delay, the EPA finally implemented Clean Air Act protections to require dirty coal power plants to clean up their mercury and air toxic emissions. The EPA did so through the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards Rule. By targeting our nation’s largest sources of mercury emissions this regulation requires dirty coal plants to reduce their mercury emissions by 90 percent. This will reduce the mercury that contaminates our streams and oceans, pollutes our fish and harms our children’s health.

In implementing these long overdue regulations, the EPA has provided a reasonable and achievable schedule for our power plants to reduce these harmful emissions. EPA’s new standard gives utilities until 2016 to comply. The EPA also made clear that it’s willing to give companies two additional years to address reliability concerns if needed. Delaware’s power plants already meet these standards. So do half of the power plants throughout America. Most communities will see great benefits from these rules and I’m told that nationally, we will see up to $90 billion in public health benefits. As someone who tried for years to work across the aisle to find a way to clean up our nation’s power plants, I welcomed the EPA’s decision to finally act to address these harmful emissions.

Regrettably, some of our colleagues don’t share the appreciation that many of us feel for the EPA’s efforts to protect public health and the environment. They want to prevent these efforts from moving forward, despite court orders requiring the EPA to do just that. I find it amazing that some in Congress would seek to prevent the EPA from following through on a law passed overwhelmingly by Congress 22 years ago and signed by a Republican president. The EPA is doing what Congress told them to do over two decades ago. If we let them do their job, their efforts will reduce harmful pollution and improve the health of generations of children to come.

As much as I hate to say it given my friendship with the author of this proposal, a vote for this Congressional Review Act would delay –– any real hope we have of cleaning up our largest source of mercury. A vote for the Congressional Review Act signals uncertainty and a lack of commitment, a commitment to make good on the law we passed overwhelmingly 22 years ago to protect public health in this country.

We cannot afford to delay the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule. This is the time to modernize our energy fleet. This is the time to clean up our dirtiest, most inefficient plants. And, this is the time to clean up our rivers, lakes and streams so that all of our children can look forward to living healthier lives. So today, I rise in strong opposition to this last ditch effort to prevent the EPA from doing its job and reducing these deadly emissions and I hope my colleagues will join me.

My decision to oppose this effort isn’t based solely on the fact that I’m a father, but knowing that the implementation of this rule will positively impact the lives and health of my sons weighs heavily on my mind. It should weigh heavily on the minds of all of us.

Our children really do hear us talk when we talk to them and to others. They’re watching today us to see if we also walk the walk. Whether we are Democrats, Independents, or Republicans, we’re still fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers. So let us continue to lead the way by following the Golden Rule this day. Let’s treat our neighbors as we would want to be treated and let’s work together across America to keep the Clean Air Act resilient and strong and to make our air cleaner still. Our children – and their children – are counting on us.