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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

05/12/1997
                        Carol M. Browner
      Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


                  Remarks Prepared for Delivery
            Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce
                   Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
                          May 12, 1997




     Thank you, Charles Pizzi, for that introduction.  I am delighted to be here and to have the opportunity to meet with one of the largest, most active and most successful of the country's local chambers of commerce.

     My purpose here today is to meet with you and to hear your concerns about EPA's proposed revisions to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone and particulate matter -- better known as smog and soot.

     Before I get to your questions, let me tell you a little about our proposals and about our obligations under the Clean Air Act.

     Over the past quarter century, America has made great progress in protecting the public health and the air, the water and the land that we all share.

     We have made these strides because together, as a nation, we have insisted that the public health be protected -- and because businesses, communities and public agencies have worked to meet the health standards we have set.

     As just one example, the air in the Philadelphia metro area is cleaner than it was a quarter-century ago.  And this community -- its leaders, its people, businesses large and small -- deserves nothing but the highest praise for the significant progress that has been made.

     Working together, here and throughout the country, we have reduced pollution of the public's air -- with common sense, cost-effective solutions -- cleaner cars, cleaner fuels, and cleaner industries.

     But the job is not done.  We still face tremendous environmental and public health challenges.  And one of them is ensuring that the air in every community -- including right here in Philadelphia -- is healthy to breathe.

     So now, at a time when EPA is proposing to strengthen the standards for soot and smog, some are asking "why?" -- why tighten the standards when many areas are only now making progress toward meeting the current standards for these pollutants?

     Indeed, some in industry have vigorously objected to our proposal and have waged an expensive public campaign against them.  Some, I'm afraid, have gone beyond the pale -- branding EPA as "extremist" and using scare tactics about intolerable lifestyle changes that these proposed standards would force on the American people.

     What they have been saying is false.  It is wrong.  It is manipulative.  And it is nothing more than an attempt to divert the nation from the real issue -- which is protecting the public health.

     And that brings up some interesting questions:  Where matters of public health are concerned, how much weight should be given to vested interests?  How much say should industry have in the setting of air quality standards?

     Fortunately, the Clean Air Act provides some answers.

     Born under President Nixon, amended and strengthened under Presidents Carter and Bush, the Clean Air Act is the embodiment of an ongoing, bipartisan desire to protect all Americans from the harmful effects of breathing polluted air.

     From the beginning, the Act has contemplated the march of technology and science.  It has recognized that science will always come up with better ways to understand the health effects of the air we breathe -- and that the standards of the 1970s may not be right for the 21st Century.  And it anticipated that some in industry -- some with vested interests in the status quo, some that may not want to reduce their pollution of the public's air -- might not agree with the conclusions of the scientific and public health communities.

     Therefore, Congress set forth a process to ensure that the standards would be set and, if necessary, revised in a manner that puts the public health first and ensures that Americans are protected with an adequate margin of safety.

     First, the Clean Air Act directs EPA to review the public health standards for the six major air pollutants at least every five years, in order to ensure that they reflect the best current science.  It also lays out a specific procedure to obtain that science and, if needed, revise the standards.  This is to ensure that we never get to the point where the government tells Americans that their air is healthy to breathe, when, in fact, it is not.

     Next, the process requires that EPA's standard-setting work and the underlying health studies -- some 250 of them in this case -- be independently reviewed by a panel of scientists and technical experts from academia, research institutes, public health organizations and industry.  The ozone and particulate matter scientific panels, over a four-year period, conducted 11 meetings, all open to the public -- a total of 124 hours of public discussion of the scientific data, research and the studies of the health effects of smog and soot.

     EPA has held further public meetings, at which hundreds of representatives from industry, state and local governments, organizations -- as well as members of the public -- have offered their views. In fact, a few weeks ago we closed the most extensive scientific review and public outreach process ever conducted by EPA for developing a public health standard.

     We are now in the process of analyzing and considering the submitted comments and, after doing so, we will set final public health standards.  Congress then has its say and may vote up-or-down on EPA's health standards.

     As many of you know, members of Congress have been watching this process very closely.  And Congress does have a review process for these kinds of regulations.  It is a good process -- as long as it is carried out responsibly, looks at all the facts, and judges them in the best interests of all Americans.  When looking at these air standards, I hope Congress will review all of the scientific analysis.  I hope they will study the entire body of evidence.

     EPA did look at the evidence -- all of it published, peer-reviewed and fully debated health studies -- literally peer review of peer review of peer review.  The independent scientific panel looked at it, too.

     We have studies linking smog to nearly one in three hospital admissions on days when ozone levels were at or below the current U.S. standard.  We have studies linking it with lung damage equal to more than half that of a pack-a-day smoker.  We have inhalation-chamber studies showing breathing problems in young adults simulating routine outdoor construction work at ozone levels equal to the current standard.  We have a summer camp study that found consistent loss of lung function in children at levels below the current standard.

     For particulate matter, we have a study based on personal health diaries collected by the American Cancer Society that tracked 300,000 Americans in 50 cities and found that the risk of early death is 15 to 17 percent higher in areas where levels of fine particulates are highest.  Another study, published in 1993 in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that exposure to fine particulates in the air increases the risk of early death by 26 percent and, in the most polluted cities, shortens individual lives by an average of one to two years.   Still another showed that air with higher soot levels was directly associated with higher numbers of elderly people going to the hospital for respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses.

     And these studies represent only a small part of the overwhelming body of independently-reviewed evidence which tells us that the current standards for smog and for soot are not sufficient to protect the public's health with an adequate margin of safety. Serious health effects are occurring in children, the elderly and other sensitive populations at particulate matter and ozone concentrations at and below existing standards.  That is why we have recommended strengthening those standards.
   
    Let me give you some other facts:
   
    Lung disease is the third leading cause of death in this country -- killing an estimated 335,000 Americans each year.
   
    Asthma is the most common chronic illness in children.  Nearly five million kids have it, along with nearly 10 million adults.  Asthma is now the leading cause of hospital admissions for children.  And deaths from asthma attacks among children and young people more than doubled between 1980 and 1993.
   
    In 1993 alone, asthma killed 342 Americans under age 25 and sent nearly 200,000 for a stay in the hospital.
   
    No less than the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that pediatricians make parents aware of the daily variations in ozone and -- when ozone levels are high -- keep their kids indoors.


     Let me turn for a moment to the potential costs of EPA's proposed standards.

     We do consider costs.  We take our responsibility to do that very seriously.  But the law does not, and should not, allow us to consider costs at this critical public health stage of the process.  The Clean Air Act clearly requires levels of smog and soot to be based solely on health, risk, exposure and damage to the environment, as determined by the best available science -- and not projected costs for reducing pollution.

     This is no accident.  In the 1970 Clean Air Act debate, Congress deliberated the issue of cost -- as well as the technical feasibility of meeting clean air standards.  At the time, there was a great deal of frustration that putting cost considerations first was preventing any real progress toward cleaner air.

     Thus, the decision was made -- the public health must come first.  The current best science must prevail in determining the level of protection the public will be guaranteed.  Nothing else can take precedence.

     This issue has been revisited each time the Clean Air Act has been amended -- in 1977 and again in 1990.  And, each time, Congress and the President have come down firmly on the side of the public health first and foremost.  That has been the history for the past quarter-century.

     Not only does the law forbid us from considering the costs in setting these standards, but history and real experience tell us we'd be foolish to try.

     Almost every time we have begun the process to set or revise air standards, the costs of doing so have been grossly overstated -- by both industry and EPA.  dire predictions of economic chaos -- always a part of the clean air debate -- have never come to pass.

     Why?  Because industry always ultimately rises to the challenge -- again and again -- finding cheaper, more innovative ways of meeting standards -- and lowering their pollution.

     Can it be done again?  Of course it can.  Your efforts here in Philadelphia have shown that we can reduce air pollution without sacrificing economic progress.

     And, if these new standards are adopted, EPA will work with all who are affected -- state governments, local governments, community leaders, businesses large and small -- here and elsewhere  -- to find cost-effective and common sense strategies for reducing pollution and providing the public health protections.  That is part of the process, too.

     So as the debate over air standards rages on, I would ask that you ask yourselves the following question: "Have we reached the point where we should abandon our commitment to a public health standard for air pollution?"

     I believe the answer is no.  Americans want clean air.  They want the public health to come first.  They want their children protected.  They want EPA to do its job -- which is ensuring that the air they breathe is safe and healthy.  They want government to be honest about when the air is unhealthy.  And they have every right to expect that industry will rise to the occasion, meet the challenges, and once again reduce their pollution of the public's air.

     Clearly, this is a vital issue of tremendous importance to millions of American families.   And I think that, in this debate, we all have a responsibility to stick to the facts.  No more scare tactics.  The public health is too important to be decided on trumped up, exaggerated charges put forth by some in industry who might be required to take steps to reduce air pollution.

     Let us listen to science.  Let us respond as we have before.  Let us work together toward common ground -- not only on this particular issue, but on all environmental and public health issues -- to improve the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink and the land on which we all live.

     Let us do it for our children.

     Thank you, and I am happy to answer your questions.