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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Congressional City Conference of the National League of Cities, Washington, D.C.

03/10/2003
Remarks of Governor Christine Todd Whitman,

Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,

at the

Congressional City Conference

of the

National League of Cities

Washington, D.C.

March 10, 2003


Thank you for that introduction and welcome back to Washington.

You have come to our Nation = s Capital to share with us your priorities for the year ahead and to hear from us what we plan to focus on over the next 12 months. I imagine there will be quite a bit of overlap between those two lists, especially with respect to the environment.

The reason our priorities will be well-matched is because we share the same environmental goals B cleaner air, purer water, better protected land. Because you deal every day with the affects of the environmental errors of the past, you know how important it is to leave the environment clearer and healthier than we found it.

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.

As a former governor and a one-time county official, I know that it = s at the local level that things really get done. 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. Last year when I spoke with you at this conference, I told you a little bit about Clear Skies. I want to bring you up-to-date on where the proposal is and what it will do to help leave America= s air cleaner for our children and grandchildren.

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, 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.

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.

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 list and mine. 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.