Statements and Speeches

"Clean Air For America: Implementing Four Pollutant Legislation"

Opening Statement: Congressional Roundtable

Sep 11 2008

I would like to thank my friend, Senator Lamar Alexander, for joining me in hosting this timely roundtable, and I thank all our participants for joining us today.

As members of the Senate committee charged with protecting our nation’s environment, Senator Alexander and I are confronted with some of our greatest challenges. To name just a few of these challenges: Global warming. Making sure Americans can fish and swim in our nation’s rivers and lakes.   Cleaning up our air so that fewer Americans will die or suffer from asthma, lung cancer and mercury poisoning.

As members of Congress, it’s our responsibility to seize the opportunity and meet these challenges. 

As Chairman of the Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee, clean air is one of my top priorities – and I believe I can safely say clean air is also a top priority for my friend from Tennessee. This is an issue we’ve both tackled since we came to the Senate earlier in this decade.

Air pollution knows no state boundaries and can cause serious health effects, such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, cancer, and even death.

Now as many of you know, Senator Alexander and I have not always agreed on the exact solution to cleaning up our nation’s air. But we do agree on the major issues.   We agree that we must reduce deadly emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury, and carbon dioxide from the nation’s fossil-fuel burning power sector. We also agree that the best approach to cleaning up these utilities is through a four pollutant legislative approach.

Over the past year, our nation’s clean air regulations have taken a beating in the courts. 

In February of this year, the federal court of appeals in Washington, D.C. vacated a deeply flawed EPA regulation to mitigate mercury emissions from fossil-fuel power plants.

Then, this past July, the same federal court vacated the EPA’s Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), which sought to put in place a cap-and-trade program for fossil-fuel power plants to reduce interstate air pollution across the eastern U.S. of SOx and NOx.

CAIR compelled upwind states to clean up so that downwind states like Delaware, located at the end of what I call America’s tailpipe, could meet ozone and particulate matter air quality standards.

Several of you who are present here today have visited my staff and me in recent weeks to discuss how we can find a legislative fix to fill the void left by the court’s decision to vacate CAIR.

Let me share with you some of my ideas on how we might move forward.

We should adopt legislation this Congress to implement the Clean Air Interstate Rule for two years as a bridge to comprehensive legislation. At my July hearing and since, many stakeholders have recommended a short-term CAIR fix, while Congress works on comprehensive legislation.

I know there are disagreements with the time period. Some in industry do not believe it gives them long-term certainty, and some environmental groups doubt Congress can do better.

I believe such short-term legislation can provide an important transition to a more lasting solution; however, I have no interest in rubber-stamping the Bush administration’s weak clean air rule.  

There are many people within the states, industry, the environmental community, and Congress, who believe that CAIR didn’t go far enough to protect public health and that we can do better. And I agree with them.

Not only was Phase II of CAIR much too weak in SO2 and NOx controls for states to meet new air quality standards, but CAIR does nothing to regulate CO2 or mercury.

Instead of enacting a rule that’s been thrown out by the courts because of challenges from both sides, we should be rolling up our sleeves and coming together on a consensus package.

Utilities continue to insist that they want certainty, but CAIR does little to reduce mercury or carbon dioxide, both pollutants that utilities know will be regulated in the future.

With the compressed legislative calendar ahead, however, providing for such a solution will require the full cooperation of all the stakeholders, including the Administration.

I am also committed to exercising congressional oversight to ensure EPA uses all its tools possible to fill some of the CAIR void. I encourage downwind states to use their legal tools to ensure upwind states continue with their pollution controls. However, I will not support backsliding on state attainment deadlines. 

We need to get started today on a four-pollutant bill. My bipartisan Clean Air Planning Act was first introduced in 2002.   Had the Congress taken action six years ago, the American people today would be realizing the public health and economic benefits of integrated clean air planning.

Four pollutant legislation ensures effective clean air planning. Effective clean air planning that can provide durable protection for human health and the environment.   Effective clean air planning can provide certainty for business investments. Effective clean air planning can help to ensure a steady flow of low cost electricity.  

I believe we can incorporate the best parts of CAIR into a CAPA bill to ensure seamless air quality controls. I also believe Senator Alexander and I can find a third way to move past some issues that have sometimes kept us from working together in the past.

It’s been almost 18 years since Congress passed significant revisions to the Clean Air Act. No one disputes that we’ve made significant environmental progress, but this is no time to rest on our Laurels. Rather, it is time we get to work on stronger air quality legislation. 

The nation cannot afford further delay. We must get started, today.

We respectfully seek your input on how we can effectively and efficiently craft a durable plan for clean air.   I look forward to working with you, Senator Alexander, and my other colleagues on a comprehensive, multi-pollutant bill. Working together, I believe we can achieve Clean Air for America.