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National Association of Local Government Environmental Professionals, Washington, D.C.

03/20/2003
Remarks of Governor Christine Todd Whitman,
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
at the
National Association of Local Government Environmental Professionals
Washington, D.C.

March 20, 2003


Thank you, Commissioner (Marcia) Jiminez for that introduction. It = s good to be with you today.

Let me begin by thanking you for this advance copy of your upcoming report, A Smart Growth for Clean Water. @ I am pleased that EPA was able to partner with you, and others, to create this important document.

Promoting and following the principles of smart growth are crucial to the long-term, overall health of America = s environment. That is why I am also pleased that we are working together on the Smart Growth Business Partnership.

As your new report points out, smart growth plays an especially key role in preserving and protecting our country = s waters. That is why we have adopted a watershed management approach at EPA. Only by looking at the conditions across entire watersheds can we achieve the next generation of progress in water quality.

Over the past two years, I have traveled around the country B visiting more than 40 states and scores of cities and towns B seeking to build a new era of partnership between the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington and all those with whom we work in statehouses and city halls in every part of America.

Everywhere I go, I tell people what my goal is at the EPA B to leave America = s air cleaner, its water purer, and its land better protected. That is a goal we all share and around which we can all rally. It = s also a goal that every American can help achieve. Every one of us, after all, has the responsibility to be good stewards of the environment.

Nowhere is that more true than at the local level. As a former governor and a one-time county official, I know that you are the people who can really get things done in your communities.

I saw clear evidence of that just last week. EPA and the Greater Houston Partnership hosted a conference here in town that brought together local officials from around the country to share ideas and innovations they have found successful in helping them meet their clean air standards. The ideas that were shared were impressive B and the results that have been achieved are even more so.

Our local communities truly are laboratories of innovation and progress. Washington can provide direction, it can make resources available, but you are the ones who make things happen on the ground.

This year, here in Washington, President Bush wants to make something happen on the ground up on Capitol Hill to advance our goal of cleaner air B passage of his landmark Clear Skies Act of 2002.

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. Just last week, Senators Inhofe and Voinovich introduced the President = s bill in the Senate and Congressmen Tauzin and Barton introduced it in the House. I am hopeful that committee hearings on the bill will be held in the very near future.

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 30 percent, even as the economy has grown by nearly 150 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 B and when I say we, I am talking about you, because you did so much to help win that victory. Now we have another challenge B to do the same thing with Clear Skies.

One of the most important steps we can take to modernize the Clean Air Act is to address the pollution emitted by older coal-burning power plants. The fact that these plants are not adequately addressed under current the law is one of its real weaknesses. 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 and others 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.

Our NSR reforms will not , as some have charged, 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 through the roof.

This will result in significant environmental benefits not just to air quality, but to the water as well. By reducing the amount of nitrogen in the air, we also reduce the amount of nitrogen that winds up in America = s estuaries, where too much nitrogen impairs the health of our waters. Reducing mercury emissions will also have positive effects on water quality.

In addition, 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.

Clear Skies also moves us away from command and control toward using the power of the market to achieve results. Rather than setting individual targets on particular smokestacks, it sets mandatory reductions on the industry as a whole B and gives facilities flexibility in how it meets those reductions.

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.

This approach is not untried. It is modeled on 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 achieved significant reductions in sulfur dioxide emissions B the pollutant that leads to acid rain B 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.

I know I have touched on just one of the pressing priorities that are on your radar screen. But one of the positive benefits of a good partnership is that dialogue among partners isn = t something that just happens once or twice a year, it = s an ongoing thing.

I look forward to continuing our dialogue in the months ahead, both directly and through our Office of Intergovernmental Relations. Because, by working together, we will be able to leave America = s air cleaner, its water purer, and its land better protected than we found it.

Thank you.