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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Environmental Council of the States, Washington, D.C.

04/08/2003
Remarks of Governor Christine Todd Whitman
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
at the
Environmental Council of the States
Washington D.C.

April 8, 2003


Thank you for that introduction. It = s good to be with you again.

As we meet today, perhaps the issue uppermost in our minds right now is the conflict in Iraq. During this time of war, our thoughts are with the men and women overseas who are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While we are fully engaged in this international struggle, the President has made it clear that our domestic responsibilities have not changed. Strengthening our economy, securing our homeland, and protecting the environment remain important priorities for President Bush and this Administration.

This is the fourth time I= ve had the opportunity to speak with you since I came to the EPA. On each of those earlier occasions, you = ve heard me speak about the importance of partnerships to achieving the goals we all share B leaving the air cleaner, the water purer, and the land better protected than we found it.

Over the past two years, we = ve worked hard to build those partnerships. We are involving you as never before in the creation of EPA = s next strategic plan and are working with you at the regional level to develop, for the first time, regional strategic plans. We = ve strengthened the Performance Partnership System by offering the first-ever state-EPA Performance Partnership Grant workshop. We are working closely with you to promote innovative environmental solutions and are stressing the importance of mutual accountability for environmental results.

After all, achieving results B tangible, measurable results B truly is the goal of all of this effort. Partnerships for their own sake make for good process, but all the process in the world doesn =t mean much if it doesn = t result in real progress.

This year, here in Washington, we have the opportunity to make that kind of real and measurable progress in the ongoing fight for cleaner air. I = m talking, of course, about the President = s Clear Skies Act of 2003 B the most significant proposed improvement to the Clean Air Act in more than a decade.

In his State of the Union address in January, the President identified passage of Clear Skies as one of his top environmental priorities for the year. Last month, Senators Inhofe and Voinovich introduced the President = s bill in the Senate and Congressmen Tauzin and Barton introduced it in the House. Later this afternoon, the Senate Clean Air Subcommittee is holding its first hearing on Clear Skies. I hope the House will soon follow suit.

There = s no doubt that in the three decades since President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act, America= s air quality has improved significantly. Over that time, the emissions of six key air pollutants has been cut by 25 percent, even as the economy has grown by nearly 160 percent.

This is laudable B but there is more to do. Poor air quality continues to threaten people = s health, shroud once-clear vistas in a murky haze, and damage the environment.

Certainly, the Clean Air Act has done what it was designed to do. But over the years, it has started to yield diminishing returns. If we are going to continue to make the air cleaner, we need to amend the Clean Air Act to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Some have suggested that Clear Skies is an attempt to undo or undermine the Clean Air Act. It= s not. It is an idea whose time has come. To achieve the next generation of environmental progress, we must improve the laws that have served us so well. That= s what we did with brownfields, and the results are already speaking for themselves. We can do the same with Clear Skies.

One of the weaknesses of the Clean Air Act is that it does not adequately address the pollution emitted by older coal-burning power plants. This has lead to too much confusion, too much litigation, and too much pollution.

Much of that confusion and litigation has centered around the New Source Review program, a part of the Clean Air Act that has received a lot of attention in the news lately, not all of it accurate. Let me try to set the record straight.

New Source Review B or NSR B is a program under the current Clean Air Act to require manufacturing facilities and power plants to modernize their pollution controls when upgrading their facilities. It sounds good in theory. But it hasn = t worked as well in practice.

Under the law, there are no clear, unambiguous objective standards under which NSR applies. One person= s upgrade (which would require the installation of new pollution control equipment) is another= s regular maintenance (which would not). This ambiguity has made NSR very difficult to comply with and to enforce. That = s why the Clinton Administration began nearly a decade ago to look for ways to reform NSR.

Recently, we finalized five reforms to New Source Review. These reforms will remove the disincentives that have actually inhibited the installation of pollution controls at many older manufacturing plants. And as you know, the DC Circuit Court recently denied a motion by several states seeking a stay of our reforms. I am pleased that the courts are allowing us to move forward with these important rules, so that we can continue to work with the states to implement them.

Our NSR reforms will not , as some have suggested, make it easier for older power plants to avoid adding new pollution-reduction equipment because they really don = t apply to older power plants. We have proposed a reform that would apply to power plants, but it is only a proposal and has a long way to go. The simple fact is our NSR reforms will result in less air pollution, not more.

However, the debate of NSR reform and power plant pollution will be immaterial if Congress passes Clear Skies. Clear Skies will sweep away all the ambiguity and confusion of NSR as it applies to power plants. It will do that by requiring mandatory reductions B that = s mandatory reductions B of 70 percent in three of the most dangerous air pollutants emitted by power plants B nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and mercury.

Over the first ten years, Clear Skies will remove 35 million more tons of NOx, SO2 , and mercury from the air than would be achieved by the current Clean Air Act in the same time frame. We will do it without inviting endless litigation and without sending energy costs sky high.

Clear Skies will also bring important health benefits to the people we serve. Every year, Clear Skies will prevent 12,000 premature deaths and will eliminate the need for hundreds of thousands of hospital visits. It will also reduce by15 million the number of days each year when millions of asthma sufferers and others with respiratory illnesses can = t go to work, school, or carry out their normal day to day activities.

I should also mention that we are calling this plan A Clear Skies @ for a reason B because it truly will make America = s spacious skies noticeably clearer. We project improvements in visibility of 3 to 4 deciviews, which is the visual equivalent of a decibel. When one deciview yields a perceptible improvement in visibility, achieving a 3 to 4 deciview improvement means you won = t be able to miss the improvement Clear Skies will deliver.

In addition, Clear Skies will help the hundreds of counties that are currently in violation of fine particle and ozone standards. Today, the responsibility of bringing those counties into attainment falls to the states and localities. I know from experience that this can be a very resource intensive and politically difficult process. Under Clear Skies, the vast majority of these counties will be brought into attainment B without making states and localities do the heavy lifting by having to get further reductions from other sectors.

This approach is not some theoretical experiment. It is modeled on the most successful air quality program of recent years B the acid rain program that was part of the Clean Air Act amendments passed in 1990. That program has had enormous success in reducing the threat of acid rain. It has already reduced sulfur dioxide emissions lower than the levels government established, with near-universal compliance and at lower costs than anticipated.

Clear Skies is what I mean when I talk about improving existing programs to achieve the next generation of environmental progress. It builds on the success of the past while recognizing that the challenges we face are different than those we faced 30 years ago. Making something work better is not a rollback, it= s a step forward. It = s time to take that step forward for cleaner air.

As state environmental officials, I hope you will take a good, hard look at what Clear Skies can do in your states. EPA = s web site provides state-by-state breakdowns of the benefits Clear Skies will bring to your state and the people who call it home. Go to www.epa.gov, click on the Clear Skies banner and then click on A Where You Live @ to find out exactly how Clear Skies will make your state = s air cleaner, your state = s people healthier, and your state = s future better.

I hope that by the time we meet again, Clear Skies will be well on its way to becoming law. I also hope that the partnerships we have building over the past 2 years will be even stronger than they are today. By working together, we will leave all those we have the honor to serve an environment that is cleaner and healthier than we found it.

Thank you.