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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks on the 40th Anniversary of the Clean Air Act, As Prepared

09/14/2010
As prepared for delivery.

Thank you for being here to mark 40 years of cleaning up the air we breathe. Let me begin by saying how honored I am to be in the presence of so many who fought for the passage and strengthening of the Clean Air Act, and those who – just as importantly – fought to ensure that the Act is faithfully implemented and responsibly enforced.

Legislative champions like Chairman Waxman. Innovators like John Mooney, one of the inventors of the catalytic convertor. Thoughtful and pragmatic lawmakers like Congressman Boehlert and Majority Leader Baker – the man known as the “Great Conciliator” and one of many who reached across the aisle to make the Clean Air Act possible. We also have with us today pioneering EPA implementers like Administrator Ruckelshaus and Assistant Administrator Hawkins, both of whom inspire our work today. Let me also acknowledge Majority Leader George Mitchell, who planned on being here today but has taken on another extraordinary challenge: helping to negotiate a Middle East Peace Agreement.

I must also thank all of you – the public servants, health advocates, and industry innovators – for being part of the work that has saved hundreds of thousands of American lives, protected our environment and spurred the creation of American jobs. Each of you has been instrumental in the tireless – and at times, thankless – efforts to enact, amend, and apply the Clean Air Act over four decades. Thank you very much.

We are here to celebrate a law that has proved to be one of the most important and beneficial pieces of legislation in our nation’s history.

First and foremost, it has protected the American people. It is literally a life saver. We estimate that it has prevented tens of thousands of premature deaths – each year. Along with lives saved, the Clean Air Act has reduced asthma attacks, heart disease, and numerous other health conditions Americans suffer from. I often think of my youngest son who has battled asthma his whole life. Without the Clean Air Act protecting the air around our home, around his school and around the places we have traveled, there is no telling how much more challenging his condition could have been for him and our family. I’m sure similar stories can be told by many of you – and by millions of people across this country.

Those protections have added up to trillions of dollars in health benefits for our nation. Breathing cleaner air has kept people from needing expensive treatments and costly hospital stays. It has also kept our kids in school and our workers on the job, increasing productivity and economic potential.

And as air pollution has dropped over the last 40 years, our national GDP has risen by 207 percent. The total benefits of the Clean Air Act amount to more than 40 times the costs of regulation. For every one dollar we have spent, we get more than $40 of benefits in return. Say what you want about EPA’s business sense, but we know how to get a return on an investment. In short, the Clean Air Act is one of the most cost-effective things the American people have done for themselves in the last half century. The irony is that one of the most economically successful programs in American history is also one of the most economically maligned. The Clean Air Act has faced incessant claims that it will spell economic doom for the American people.

Today’s forecasts of economic doom are nearly identical – almost word for word – to the doomsday predictions of the last 40 years. This “broken-record” continues despite the fact that history has proven the doomsayers wrong again and again.

In the 1970s, lobbyists told us that using the Clean Air Act to phase in catalytic converters for new cars and trucks would cause “entire industries” to “collapse.” Instead, the requirement gave birth to a global market for catalytic converters and enthroned American manufacturers at the pinnacle of that market.

In the 1980s, lobbyists told us that the proposed Clean Air Act Amendments would cause, quote, “a quiet death for businesses across the country.” Instead, the US economy grew by 64 percent even as the implementation of Clean Air Act Amendments cut Acid Rain pollution in half. The requirements gave birth to a global market in smokestack scrubbers and, again, gave American manufacturers dominance in that market.

Yet again in the 1990s, lobbyists told us that using the Clean Air Act to phase out CFCs – the chemicals depleting the Ozone Layer – would create “severe economic and social disruption.” They raised the fear of “shutdowns of refrigeration equipment in supermarkets … office buildings, our hotels, and hospitals.” In reality, new technology cut costs while improving productivity and quality. The phase-out happened five years faster than predicted and cost 30 percent less. And, by making their products better and cleaner, the American refrigeration industry created new overseas markets for themselves.

In fact, thanks in no small part to the Clean Air Act, America is home to a world-leading environmental technology industry. By conservative estimates, in 2007 environmental firms and small businesses in the U.S. generated $282 billion in revenues and $40 billion in exports, while supporting 1.6 million American jobs.

As you can see, the Clean Air Act has not only reduced harmful pollution – it has also been particularly effective at proving lobbyists wrong. This law not only respects but thrives on the openness and entrepreneurship of our economy. It creates a “virtuous cycle” in which clean air standards spark new technology – serving our fundamental belief that we can create jobs and opportunities without burdening our citizens with the effects of pollution.

Now it’s our turn to promote innovation, grow a clean economy, and address both the new challenges and the unfinished business of the Clean Air Act. This is an ambitious effort, one that follows in the extraordinary footsteps of the last four decades. I believe that we will have our own chance to make history with the work we will set in motion. And while I won’t be making any news here today, I do want to talk about what we’ve done so far – because we are off and running.

Since 2009 EPA has put forward new health standards for ground level ozone, and finalized the first new standards for SO2 and NO2 in more than two decades. We are taking action on air toxics from industrial boilers that emit acid gases, dioxin, and mercury. And we’ve finalized rules on cement plants. We’ve used the “Good Neighbor” provision in the Clean Air Act to shape a transport rule that could have up to $290 billion in health benefits for the American people. And we’ve issued clear rulemaking guidance to ensure that the benefits of the Clean Air Act are reaching every community – including the low-income and minority communities that often bear the greatest environmental burdens.

Last year, EPA also began the process to carry out the 2007 Supreme Court decision that the Clean Air Act applies to greenhouse gases. As the Court directed, we began taking measured steps to address greenhouse-gas pollution that science shows is contributing to climate change.

Step one was a confirmation of the extensive science of climate change, fulfilling the Supreme Court mandate that EPA determine whether greenhouse gas emissions endanger public welfare and the environment. We then finalized the first-ever greenhouse gas emissions standards for American vehicles – which will cut some 950 million tons of carbon pollution from our skies, while savings drivers of clean cars $3,000 at the gas pump and keeping $2.3 billion at home in our economy, rather than buying oil from overseas.

As with every Clean Air Act program, this will also mean new innovation: American scientists producing new composite materials that make cars lighter, safer and more fuel efficient; American inventors and entrepreneurs taking the lead in advanced battery technology for plug-in hybrids and electric cars; and American manufacturers producing these new components – which they can then sell to automakers in the US and around the globe.

Our next step was to craft a tailoring rule that limits permitting to a small universe of the largest emitting sources, phases in requirements and shields small greenhouse gas emitters – including thousands of small businesses and non-profits – from regulation. A guidance document that EPA will issue shortly will assist the states and the small number of sources covered in completing the permitting process in a manner that is practical and manageable.

True to form, the lobbyists have recycled their old predictions of job loss and economic catastrophe with regard to each and every one of these actions. That train’s never late. There have been claims of EPA’s bureaucratic power grabs – despite the fact that our actions are guided by extensive science and – in the case of the endangerment finding – mandated by the Supreme Court. Of course there have been claims about job killing regulations – despite the fact that cost-effective strategies to reduce air pollution should spark clean energy innovation and help create green jobs.

One prominent lobbyist was even quoted saying that if EPA wishes to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, “then it ought to have to regulate facilities large and small and suffer all the consequences, warts and all.” Some lobbyists are actually so eager to see their wild projections of economic collapse come true – just once – that they hope to force EPA to regulate in the most aggressive and disruptive way imaginable.

Fortunately, we know better. The Clean Air Act does not require EPA to act in a reckless and irresponsible manner. We will proceed carefully through the series of sensible steps that I have been describing publicly since my confirmation hearing twenty months ago. To be very clear about how we make our decisions, I am outlining today five principles that will inform all of our clean air efforts in the months and years ahead. These are the guiding points that will help us confront everything from lingering challenges like smog and mercury, to new challenges like greenhouse gases.

First, we will continue to promote commonsense strategies that encourage investment in energy efficiency and updated technologies. The history of the Clean Air Act is the history of environmental innovation, and we intend to carry on that tradition. That is especially critical in our efforts to spark the long-deferred investments power plants that have been around for 50 years and longer, and have avoided the basic pollution controls that newer plants have used for decades. These controls save lives. By now should be as standard as seatbelts are to cars

Next, we will use similar strategies to capture multiple pollutants. Many of the most harmful pollutants can be captured with the same technologies, and we plan to take a multi-pollutant, sector-based approach that provides certainty and clarity for businesses and investors and creates opportunities to reduce emissions at lower cost.

Principle number three is to set clear, achievable standards while maintaining maximum flexibility on how to get there. By relying on innovation, we can open the way to compliance through many different strategies. Often industry develops a range of resourceful compliance strategies that were not anticipated. We must be as flexible as possible to ensure the best results. That flexibility will also enhance the compatibility of EPA’s rules with state clean air programs.

Fourth, we will seek input from the citizens, industry, affected entities, other stakeholders, as well as our partners in state, local and tribal governments. As always – we will seek the input of as many sources as possible.

Finally, we will set the standards that make the most sense – focusing on getting the most meaningful results through the most cost-effective measures. The Clean Air Act does not compel regulations for all industry categories, and we want to ensure that we move forward without burdening small businesses, non-profits and other entities that don’t account for significant amounts of pollution in our skies.

Our goal is to use the tools in Clean Air Act to provide flexibility for everyone, to work in sync with market principles and to encourage investment in new technologies that provide cost-effective and efficient methods for lowering pollution in the air we breathe. As Administrator and as an American consumer, I know we must be smart in the strategies we employ. Industry needs clarity and certainty to make the best investments. They are the key to the innovation that helps us reduce pollution, protect our health and preserve our environment.

But we are not going to fall victim to another round of trumped up doomsday predictions. We have four decades of evidence that the choice between our economy and our environment is a false choice. We are a stronger, healthier, more productive and more prosperous nation because of the Clean Air Act. I know we can successfully write the next chapter in the history of this important law.

We can take on the remaining challenges of pollution in our air. I know because the Clean Air Act took on big challenges – and it worked. We can come together in a collaborative effort, ignore the doomsday exaggerations, and build a commonsense plan together. I know because we’ve done it before – and it worked. And we can absolutely grow our economy at the same time we protect our environment, our health, and safeguard the planet for the next generation.

We have 40 years of proof to back us up. We’ve done it before – and it worked. I look forward to working with all of you in those efforts.

Thank you very much.