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Clean Air Hearing Summaries (8-7-02)

  • Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, July 30, 2002: Hearing on the Effectiveness of the Current Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program (CMAQ), Conformity, and the Role of New Technologies
  • Senate Judiciary & Environment and Public Works Committees, July 16, 2002: Hearing on the New Source Review Program of the Clean Air Act
  • Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, June 12, 2002: Hearing on Testimony Further Analyzing the Costs and Benefits of Multi-Pollutant Legislation

  • Hearing on the Effectiveness of the Current Congestion Mitigation and
    Air Quality Program (CMAQ), Conformity, and the Role of New Technologies
    Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
    July 30, 2002

    Members Present
    James M. Jeffords (I-VT), Chairman Robert C. Smith (R-NH), Ranking Member
    Thomas R. Carper (D-DE) James M. Inhofe (R-OK)
    Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) Christopher S. Bond (R-MO)
      George V. Voinovich (R-OH)
      Lincoln D. Chafee (R-RI)

    Hearing Summary
    On July 30th, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing on the effectiveness of the current Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program (CMAQ), conformity, and the role of new technologies in improving air quality. The EPW Committee is the only committee with jurisdiction over both transportation and the Clean Air Act. In their opening statements, the five Republican senators spoke of increasing vehicle efficiency as the main driver in air quality improvements to date. A few of these senators also spoke of increasing highway congestion and questioned the extent to which CMAQ has been effective, particularly in comparison with the technological improvements over the same period of time. Chairman James Jeffords (I-VT) suggested that as cars become cleaner some may think alternative transportation infrastructure such as bike lanes and pedestrian paths are not necessary. He warned against this line of thinking, reminding those present that these methods for getting around are still the "ultimate forms of transportation" that result in zero emissions.

    The first panel consisted of Mary Peters, Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, and Jeffrey Holmstead, Assistant Administrator of the Office of Air and Radiation at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Both witnesses highlighted the successes and progress experienced in air quality improvements to date. They also both viewed CMAQ as a program with potential but in need of changes. It is a good program in that it brings transportation and environmental agencies together to conform to the program requirements.

    The second panel of witnesses included Scott Johnstone, Secretary for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources; Ron Harris, Collin County Judge, Texas; Lynn Terry, Deputy Executive Officer for the California Air Resources Board; James Stephenson, on behalf of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA); and Michael Replogle, Transportation Director for the Environmental Defense Fund. Except for Stephenson, all witnesses considered CMAQ to be a valuable program that had been of great assistance in their various areas. The program was helpful in creating bus lanes, HOV lanes, and implementing cleaner technologies. Terry brought up that one significant obstacle for the program was taking the information it provided into account and including it in transportation plans in a workable way. Stephenson was less keen on the program, pointing to the areas that go through a conformity lapse, in which their transportation funding is taken away. He argued that in these cases, important transportation improvement projects are postponed or cancelled, having potentially tragic consequences (i.e. highway deaths). When Jeffords asked the panel if the committee should vote for increased CMAQ funding all panelists answered yes, including a hesitant Stephenson. One word of caution that was offered by a couple of the panelists was to make sure that the CMAQ money is being spent thoughtfully and that measurable results are sought out. Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE) asked the panel if they considered it a good idea to increase the flexibility of CMAQ funding, offering information on which transportation projects states had been allowed to use congestion mitigation money for in the past. All panelists supported increased flexibility in CMAQ funding as long as quantifiable air quality improvements were experienced as a result of the projects.

    Opening remarks and witness testimony are available online.


    Joint Committee Hearing on the New Source Review Program of the Clean Air Act
    Senate Judiciary & Environment and Public Works Committees
    July 16, 2002

    The Bottom Line
    On July 16th, a joint committee hearing was held to discuss the administration's plans for the New Source Review (NSR). The NSR program is part of the Clean Air Act, which, according to an EPA report, requires sources to "install modern pollution control equipment when it is built (for new sources) or when it makes a major modification that increases emissions significantly (for existing sources)." Eleven witnesses, including Jeffrey Holmstead of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Thomas Sansonetti of the Department of Justice, and Attornies General from Vermont, New York, and Alabama testified at this lengthy hearing. The majority of senators and witnesses present recognized that the current NSR leaves room for improvement. Many, however, also expressed concern that the proposed NSR changes undermine the Clean Sir Act as they expect a significant amount of air pollution to slip through with the loopholes created in the reformed NSR, which caters to industry requests for flexibility. An emissions increase, which would have significant public health and environmental consequences, is expected to be associated with the NSR reforms. Proponents of the NSR reforms detailed the confusion that has plagued the program as well as ways through which the NSR prevents industries from being able to upgrade their facilities and its detrimental effects on their ability to produce energy efficiently. Opponents believed that these concerns were false and that industry is attempting to avoid its responsibilities.

    Members Present

    Judiciary Committee
    Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT), Chairman
    Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT), Ranking Member
    Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE)
    Charles E. Grassley (R-IA)
    Charles E. Schumer (D-NY)
    Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
    Richard J. Durbin (D-IL)
    John R. Edwards (D-NC)

    Environment and Public Works Committee
    James M. Jeffords (I-VT), Chairman
    Joseph I. Lieberman (D-CT)
    Robert C. Smith (R-NH), Ranking Member
    Thomas R. Carper (D-DE)
    James M. Inhofe (R-OK)
    Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY)
    Christopher S. Bond (R-MO)
    Jon Corzine (D-NJ)
    George V. Voinovich (R-OH)

    Hearing Summary
    On July 16th, the Senate Judiciary and Environment and Public Works Committees held a joint hearing to review plans for the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) New Source Review (NSR) program under the Clean Air Act. The committees decided to meet jointly because their chairmen felt that this issue required scrutiny on both legal and environmental grounds. The hearing lasted nearly five hours, involving eleven witnesses and a stream of questions by senators. Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) began the hearing by noting the absence of EPA Administrator Christie Whitman from the hearing. He then continued, explaining that the hearing was based on the question of the quality of our air and the enforcement of our laws. The initial creation of the Clean Air Act and the NSR involved an understanding of compromise between the various parties and that all would keep their word. Unfortunately, several of the largest energy companies have proven to be irresponsible polluters, and the EPA and the Department of Justice (DOJ) began to crack down on them in 1999. Leahy argued that instead of paying the price for the pollution, the corporations went to the Bush Administration for relief once he was in office. While the administration claims that the legislation will not change the course of the lawsuits, its effects can already be seen in cases that have been stalled and sent to mediation. Leahy ended by calling for tougher action against corporate abuse.

    James Jeffords (I-VT) stated that the expected changes to the NSR would signify the biggest rollback in the history of the Clean Air Act as the changes will provide loopholes for non-routine plant maintenance that do not currently exist. He expressed concern that the administration had ignored state and public health concerns in order to please the corporations. Jeffords then broadened his focus by saying that he was "saddened by what the White House is doing to the EPA."

    Robert Smith (R-NH) commented on the statements given by the "Green Mountain Boys" that had preceded his own. He asked how this negative type of discussion could be effective in addressing the problems the US faces and pointed out that these "evil" corporations have been supplying the US with power for over 100 years. Furthermore, the efficacy of the NSR has been lacking since it was first initiated, as it is a constant source of confusion. While it was only a few pages of federal law, thousands of pages of guidance documents have been written in an effort to explain how and when it should be invoked. Even the Clinton Administration recognized the shortcomings of the NSR and some of the notoriously green Vice President Al Gore's proposals have made it into the Bush proposal. Smith argued that nobody enjoys breathing in dirty air; therefore, clean air is not a partisan issue, yet environmental politics seem to be trumping environmental progress.

    Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) shared Leahy and Jeffords' viewpoint on the issue, warning that the administration is on the brink of gutting the NSR regulations and replacing it with nothing. He spoke of the increased health problems associated with air pollution and explained that information on the effects the proposal would have on health had been requested from the EPA but had been slow in coming. Lieberman admitted that there is room for improvement in the NSR but believes that the current proposal is not an acceptable solution.

    George Voinovich (R-OH) objected to the overwhelmingly negative response to the administration's NSR proposal that had already been expressed at the hearing. He pointed out the significant reductions in pollution that have occurred across the US as a result of the Clean Air Act. The complexity of the NSR, on the other hand, has prevented companies from taking additional steps to increase their efficiency, as they do not want to get involved in the regulatory hassle. When companies are subjected to the NSR hassle, these costs are passed on to the rate payers.

    Joseph Biden (D-DE) reminded those present that the focus of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act is not to maintain the status quo and the volume of energy produced but to improve air and water quality. Perspectives are often determined by where a person is from. He suggested that he would like the prevailing winds to blow into Ohio as opposed to out, and for the smokestacks to be 20 feet high as opposed to 300 feet high, causing the emissions to remain closer to their source. As it is, states with very little to do with the production of these emissions experience elevated health risks, such as asthma or contracting cancers, as a result of the way the wind blows. He offered the fog that enveloped much of the east coast in early July due to northern Canada fires as a graphic example of how the air we breathe is transported long distances. If we could color code the pollution emitted from plants so people could see what they were breathing Biden believes there would be a real epiphany in the US. Along these lines, he believed rate payers would be very willing to pay more money if they knew they were avoiding additional health risks by doing so.

    James Inhofe (R-OK) expressed his belief that it takes courage to make the NSR reforms that have been proposed by the administration. The reforms are supported by a wide range of interests, as in the past companies have been stopped dead in their tracks by the Clean Air Act when they have tried to make improvements. He closed by exclaiming, "you can't run the most industrialized country on windmills!"

    Panel I
    Thomas Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General of Environment and Natural Resources for the DOJ and Jeffrey Holmstead, Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation for the EPA were the two witnesses in the first panel. Sansonetti discussed the history of NSR enforcement activities, explaining that there is much more to the program than the regulation of power plants. Enforcement began in the 1980s and over time companies with compliance problems have been targeted. At the time of the hearing there were 11 pending cases, most involving liability issues. Pollution controls in place due to the NSR equal a substantial reduction in emissions. He concluded that the DOJ takes NSR enforcement seriously and stated that he had no involvement with the administration's policy.

    Holmstead explained that his role at the hearing was to clear up misconceptions of the NSR. When NSR was established, its main function was to require companies to install state-of-the-art emissions controls when they made equipment changes that would otherwise increase emissions by a certain amount. Over the years, however, the program has become increasingly complicated and transformed into something it was not meant to be. NSR has been the source of much frustration and has caused the cancellation of many projects. Meanwhile, there is no evidence that the NSR has increased air quality. In fact, it has created an incentive for plants to continue emitting at elevated levels because making changes could trigger a NSR. The administration recognizes the need to reduce pollution from power plants, particularly coal plants, but it would rather have Congress dictate when or by how much plants need to revamp through legislation, such as the president's proposal (Clear Skies Initiative).

    Leahy began the first question and answer period by seeking to establish whether or not the proposed NSR changes are having and/or will have an effect on the enforcement of cases currently in the court system for NSR violations. Both witnesses expressed their belief that the changes will not affect the cases currently in the courts.

    Jeffords asked about current NSR violation rates, which Holmstead was not sure about. He then asked how emissions are expected to decrease if the new NSR rules are finalized. Because Holmstead did not know the numbers off hand, Jeffords asked that Holmstead get him projections at some point.

    Voinovich questioned an increase in NSR lawsuits that occurred around 1998. He asked for ideas as to what could have triggered this increase -- was it a change in guidance? Neither of the witnesses knew about this situation so Voinovich asked that the EPA investigate what happened. The next question involved allegations in the media that the EPA had a closed process when they developed the NSR. Holmstead assured him the actual process had been done in an open, public way. There were dozens of public meetings as well as meetings with several different groups. Voinovich finished with a jab at the motives behind calling the hearing. He asked how they could talk about regulations being so terrible when they do not even know exactly what they are yet. Both witnesses answered that they did not know and had wondered the same thing.

    Thomas Carper (D-DE) asked Sansonetti if the NSR protects health and the environment, energy efficiency, energy security, and regulatory certainty as it should. Sansonetti answered that the NSR only comes into play when an equipment change results in a significant increase in emissions. As a result, NSR has been effective in respect to new sources but as long as old plants do not increase their emissions, they can maintain emitting at their current level. For this reason Sansonetti felt that the Clear Skies Initiative was better than the NSR. He also explained that once a bill involving a cap program, such as the Clear Skies Initiative or S. 556, passes Congress then the NSR will provide no additional benefit for power plant regulation.

    Christopher Bond (R-MO) stated that the NSR debate is not about clean air, it is about the complications and confusion created by the NSR. He claimed that if people are serious about improving the air there are other ways to go about doing it that would be more effective, such as increasing energy efficiency.

    John Edwards (D-NC) spoke of the high levels of pollution in North Carolina and expressed the need to make pollution reduction -- of which he considers NSR a valuable part -- a priority. He pointed out that Holmstead had said that the NSR rule changes will not result in increased emissions although he was unable to quantify reductions and asked him if he could quantify the effects of the rule of human health. Holmstead responded that North Carolina would experience positive health effects as a result of the new NSR rules although he was unable to quantify the changes at that time. Edwards then asked about the change in the emissions baseline for power plants as a result of the NSR changes. Holmstead answered that the baseline will not change for power plants but for other plants the baseline will either be the average emissions of the two most recent years or of two consecutive years more representative of normal operations. While baselines are likely to fluctuate as a result of this rule change, he explained that the baselines will be less subjective as a result.

    Jeff Sessions (R-AL) asked when the EPA became aware that companies were violating the NSR rule, which Holmstead could not answer. He then asked why the EPA had not announced a rule change earlier if it knew that there were so many problems surrounding the NSR. Holmstead replied that the agency felt people had been aware of the rule for years and that they were familiar with how it worked. Sessions was interested in his answer, following up by clarifying that people had understood the rules and yet the EPA has allowed the rule changes to go on.

    Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) responded to Voinovich's criticism about calling a hearing to discuss the NSR proposal that had not even been finalized. She explained that the problem was that many of the changes being discussed were going to go straight to finalized status so they will not have the opportunity to do anything once the rules are released. When she asked that the committees be allowed to comment before the rules are finalized, Holmstead answered that all actions would be in accordance with the rulemaking laws. Clinton then questioned how Holmstead could claim that emissions will be equal or lower than they were before the NSR changes when the emissions baselines for plants will often increase -- why did they even contemplate rule changes that would result in increased baselines?

    Richard Durbin (D-IL) began by clarifying the initial conditions of the Clean Air Act in that it allowed for some plants to be grandfathered in without meeting the emissions requirements as long as there was an understanding that once significant changes, greater than routine maintenance, were made they would need to come up to speed with the Clean Air Act requirements. Durbin was skeptical about the administration's NSR changes and asked whether or not the proposed changes would broaden or narrow the definition of routine maintenance. Holmstead responded that while they have not made any changes yet there were several options, some would broaden the definition and others would narrow it. Jon Corzine (D-NJ) then supported Durbin's skepticism.

    Panel II
    The second panel consisted of three Attorneys General: William Sorrell (Vermont), Eliot Spitzer (New York), and Bill Pryor (Alabama). Sorrell urged the senators to help decrease the levels of pollution being emitted from Midwestern states. While Vermont emission levels are very low, he spoke of the massive amounts of pollution carried into Vermont by prevailing winds. This pollution has devastating effects on the state's environment and biota -- recovery of Vermont watersheds and soil is projected to take 20 to 50 years if emissions are decreased by 80%. There is no question in his mind that implementation of the new NSR rules will take them "180 degrees in the wrong direction."

    In response to Clinton's request that he respond to what had been discussed in the hearing up to that point, Spitzer began by commenting on Holmstead's misuse of a quote from the Washington Post article: "Nothing the Bush administration does prospectively will have any impact on the violations these plants committed in the past." Spitzer pointed out that the real issue is that the NSR is now in regulatory limbo that has a devastating impact, making it hard to effectively pursue cases. He also commented on the misconception that a new interpretation of the NSR by the EPA had led to an increased number of court cases. The cases did not hinge on a new interpretation of NSR rules. Instead, enforcement actions prove that the NSR does have teeth. He concluded by stating what he considers to be the real issue: who will pay for the emissions that are killing people -- companies or people.

    Pryor offered a differing viewpoint. He supported the NSR changes and felt that they are necessary in order to restore cooperative federalism where the federal government establishes and enforces air quality standards. He argued that in the late 1990s the EPA upset the effectiveness of the NSR by claiming that plant activities had triggered NSR when, in fact, they had not. This was attributed to a Clinton Administration definition change of "routine maintenance."

    Jeffords asked Sorrell what effect he expected the proposed NSR changes to have on the pending court cases. Sorrell responded that he felt the cases would be impacted significantly.

    Charles Schumer (D-NY) repeated the frustration regarding northeast vulnerability to Midwest pollution that had been expressed by other northeasterners throughout the hearing. He said that power plants have created a bad (pollution) along with a good (energy) and that it is good economics for these two to be reconciled.

    Jeff Sessions (R-AL) suggested that they should be concerned, from a due-process point of view, with the lawsuits resulting from false claims of NSR violation that Pryor had mentioned. Spitzer replied that there has always been a debate regarding what qualifies for routine maintenance. The approval of plant changes must be upheld by the courts and congress.

    Panel III
    The final panel included Eric Schaeffer, Director of the Environmental Integrity Project for the Rockefeller Family Fund; Bob Slaughter, President of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association (NPRA); Hilton Kelley, Refinery Reform Campaign; Steve Harper, Director of Environment, Health, Safety, and Energy Policy for Intel, Corp; John Walke, Clean Air Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); and E. Donald Elliott of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP.

    Schaeffer clearly expressed his view that "the Administration's proposal is unlawful, threatens public health, is premised on an energy shortage that does not exist, and undermines enforcement of the Clean Air Act." He described that the importance of the NSR is that it ends the temporary exemption of plants grandfathered into the system when the Clean Air Act became law and provides environmental and health benefits. The administration proposal, however, provides loopholes large enough so that almost every plant construction project would be exempt from the NSR. Schaeffer also addressed concerns often voiced about increased prices for power, power plants losing their generating capacity, and plants being unable to make changes that will reduce their emissions due to fear of triggering a NSR. These are all unfounded, according to Schaeffer. A 2000 Department of Energy report found that electricity prices would not increase even if all large coal plants were put on modern pollution controls in the next 20 years, power plants show no real decrease in capacity in connection with implementation of the NSR, and a NSR is only triggered when changes increase emissions. He claims that the fears are typical of "government by anecdote" mentality, where the same old war stories about terrible regulations are repeated without any legitimate basis for the concern.

    Slaughter began by stressing that the NSR reform process had been open and public, echoing Holmstead's response to Voinovich's question regarding press allegations suggesting otherwise. He argued that NSR reform is needed for several reasons. It will allow for plants to improve their facilities, improve their technologies and create cleaner fuels, and become more energy efficient. All of these changes would result in significant environmental improvements. Reform would also reduce the significant threat to domestic refining capacity resulting from NSR. Slaughter also pointed out that the NSR is by no means the only regulations placed on industry. There are a number of other federal and state regulations limiting emissions. Changes to the NSR will allow companies to update their plants and meet growing demands without the confusion and uncertainty involved with the NSR. To support his claim that the NSR is complex and misunderstood, he pointed to the fact that the five attorneys general who had been present at the hearing -- referring to the three witnesses along with Jeffords and Sessions (both former state attorneys general) -- could not even agree on what the rules of the NSR were.

    Kelley argued that by allowing refineries to go backwards with their emissions baselines, emissions were bound to go up. He referred to this as an "EPA death sentence." Because the Clear Skies Initiative only applies to power plants, it is essential that there is strict enforcement of the NSR in order to protect the Clean Air Act. He then highlighted environmental justice issues surrounding the placement and operation of oil refineries, explaining that the refineries are concentrated in poor and minority communities. It is these people, many of whom are sick and dying, that have to "pay the price for our nation's cheap gasoline." Kelley then broadened his scope, adding that this is a national problem and we must not allow the proposed changes to the NSR to be finalized.

    Harper spoke highly of one of the elements of the proposed NSR changes which will provide increased regulatory flexibility -- the plant wide applicability limits (PALS). PALS feature an emissions cap so as long as companies do not increase their emissions above the cap, they are not subject the NSR. He offered benefits associated with PALS: they are set to reflect the air needs of each area, therefore they provide a powerful pollution prevention incentive; public participation is requested in the determination of the PALS cap; and they offer operational flexibility, while it is not a fix-all it is a win-win in what it does.

    Walke discussed severe health set-backs that would come along with the emissions increase that would be associated with NSR changes. He corrected a statement Holmstead had made earlier that the NSR does reduce pollution from existing sources when those sources make changes that cause an increase in their pollution. He also explained that the EPA's own lawyers have warned them that the NSR changes go against the Clean Air Act. While the NRDC has requested NSR reforms, they certainly were not looking for the reforms, which cater to the industry call for flexibility, that have been proposed.

    Elliott proclaimed that it was a fallacy to equate the NSR with pollution reduction. The NSR has not been an effective mechanism, it is an antiquated regulatory technology, and there are certainly better ways to deal with reducing pollution. How could the NSR be a good policy when the words have meant something different in 1982, 1996, 1998, and 2002 Furthermore, while the NSR program has been around for 25 years yielding few benefits, other programs, such as the acid rain trading program, have been wildly successful. Elliott concluded that Congress could either allow unsuccessful litigations to continue or they could take control, put a merciful end to the NSR controversy, and put through a new alternative that would hopefully have bipartisan support.

    Jeffords was the lone senator present to hear the final panel, and he ended the hearing by directing a question to each of the witnesses. While some questions seemed rather ceremonial, there were a few highlights. Schaeffer explained that the PALS component of the NSR changes would benefit public health by having the overall effect of bringing emissions down to the set cap. Harper explained that while PALS caps are good for ten years after they are implemented, it will be possible to adjust them down if air quality requires a need for decreased emissions or other laws with more stringent caps are implemented. Jeffords asked Walke why the NRDC was no longer participating in the NSR reforms, to produce benefits for industry and the environment, as they had been. Walke replied that after the past election industry decided they could get a better deal with the new administration. He described the current situation as a "grandfather on steroids" and added that it was a far cry from the constructive dialogs that had taken place before the administration change. Walke added that while it was true that the Clinton Administration had proposed some of the changes included in the current NSR reform proposal, they were not implemented because of the large number of state, environment, and public health people opposed to the changes. Elliott was the last witness to speak. He suggested that a main flaw in Jeffords's S. 556 was its retention of the NSR. He called for the need for clear triggers in order to avoid having to weight each case individually as is now the norm.


    Hearing on Testimony Further Analyzing the Costs and Benefits of Multi-Pollutant Legislation
    Senate Public Works Committees
    June 12, 2002

    The Bottom Line
    On June 12th, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held its third hearing to further analyze the costs and benefits of multi-pollutant legislation.  The discussion revolved around two proposals -- the Bush Administration's Clear Skies Initiative and Chairman Jim Jeffords's (I-VT) S. 556.  Both pieces of legislation call for the reduction of SO2, NOx, and mercury emissions but they vary in the degree to which reductions are mandatory and in the magnitude of reductions.  Unlike the president's proposal, S. 556 also calls for the reduction of CO2 emissions.  Jeffords began the hearing by explaining that pushing through a multi-pollutant bill will be much more cost effective than dealing with each pollutant separately.  He then stated it is "our responsibility to act and our duty to lead" and stressed "we cannot afford to not be ambitious" because the legislation is likely to last for decades.  Six other senators offered their opening remarks and, by the end, it was clear that there was agreement across the board for reductions in the three pollutants covered in both bills.  However, widespread disagreement existed over the issue of CO2 reductions.  As a result, some senators called on the committee to seek common ground as opposed to attempting the "impossible"; pushing a bill with mandatory CO2 reductions through Congress.  Senators Christopher Bond (R-MO), Robert Smith (R-NH), and George Voinovich (R-OH), argued that presenting legislation involving a reduction in the three pollutants is doable and that legislation involving CO2 must be tackled later.  Senators Jeffords, Bob Graham (D-FL), Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) stressed that the science to support taking action is complete and shows that there is no longer a question as to the human effects on climate change.  Therefore, the committee could either "consciously elect to forget" the facts or they could take a direct position on reducing CO2 emissions along with the other three pollutants.  The committee web site contains additional background on the hearing and information on the witnesses.

    Members Present
    Sen. Christopher Bond (R-MO)
    Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI)
    Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL)
    Sen. James Jeffords (I-VT), Chairman
    Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT)
    Sen. Robert Smith (R-NH), Ranking Member
    Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH)
    Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)

    Hearing Summary
    Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) was the lone witness in the first panel.  He began by stating that air, like water and food, is a given need, that development is something good for humanity, and that economic progress cannot be considered development when it's making people sick.  He noted that Cleveland, a city within his district, suffers from high levels of pollution.  He fully supports S. 556 as he views it as the best opportunity to make a positive change in our quality of life of the two bills being discussed.  He also pointed out that S. 556 will not necessarily hurt the energy industry by forcing it to turn away from coal.

    The second panel was composed of seven witnesses.  Ronald Methier of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Environmental Protection Division was the first to speak.  He talked about the places currently in violation of the Clean Air Act.  He also focused the blame on electric utilities, saying that due to the magnitude of pollution they release, controlling them and cleaning up the outdated plants should be a high priority.  He insisted that the committee institute multi-pollutant legislation but allow for flexibility with local laws.  David Hawkins, Director of the Climate Center at the Natural Resources Defense Council, was also in favor of S. 556.  He felt the Clear Skies proposal leaves more pollutants in the air and ignores global warming pollution even though the EPA Climate Action report recently acknowledged that global warming is anthropogenic.  Hawkins also stressed that time is a huge factor -- it is critical that humans start decreasing CO2 emissions now: "Delay is not our friend."  Don Barger, Senior Director of the National Parks Conservation Association, described air pollution in the national parks as "a disaster in slow motion. . . . It would have been less threatening to one's health to walk to work here in Washington, DC yesterday morning [a 'Code Red' ozone alert day] than it would have been to hike an equal distance on the Appalachian Trail in the Smokies."  He was the fourth witness in favor of S. 556, particularly its focus on cleaning up older, inefficient power plants.

    Bob Page is Vice President of Sustainable Development for Transalta Corporation, Canada's largest private electric company.  He noted that environmental stewardship is one of Transalta's core values, and it has received national and international recognition for its climate change programs.  Page offered advice on how to go about creating workable legislation, based on his company's past experience.  He presented several ideas, including the following: Coal is an essential resource for power generation in North America, it is in abundant supply and there is much optimism that clean coal technologies are on the horizon; flexible timelines for implementing changes are essential and government support and incentives are needed; And, multi-pollutant legislation is the way to go as "piecemeal approaches have hindered long-term technology development."  However, he did not support mandatory CO2 reductions (Kyoto Protocol, S. 556, etc.).

    The remaining three witnesses expressed concerns with S. 556.  William Tyndall, Vice President of Environmental Services and Federal Affairs for Cinergy Corporation, argued that the financial investment required by S. 556 would be impossible for any company, Cinergy's size or smaller, to make in the time frame they would need to do so.  He was particularly opposed to S. 556's "'outdated power plants' provision requiring the retrofitting of best available controls on all units over 30 years old regardless of the environmental need."  He also argued that the bill fails to mesh with regulations that are already in place in the Clean Air Act and just adds complexity and cost to the regulations.  Lee Hughes, Vice President of Corporate Environmental Control for Bayer Corporation, expressed concern about S. 556's impact on the availability of natural gas and energy prices and its possible negative impacts on the economy.  He echoed Page's call for a market-based approach to cleaner air.  The final panelist, Tom Mullen, President and CEO of Catholic Charities Health and Human Services for the Diocese of Cleveland, asked the committee to consider people who would be directly impacted by S. 556.  He offered two examples; one of an elderly woman on a fixed income, and the second of a mother with young children, working at the minimum wage.  He argued that this bill would negatively effect people in both of these groups as they would be unable to absorb the increase in utility costs that he viewed as inevitable with the implementation of S. 556.

    The question and answer period following the testimony was filled with analogies and hypothetical situations.  Sen. Smith likened the multi-pollutant bill to a canoe with four children.  If the canoe tips, do you save as many as you can or do you let them all drown?  He argued you save as many as you can (meaning they go with the Clear Skies Initiative which targets the three pollutants on which there is wide agreement).  One panelist responded that the conclusion to that analogy was misguided; choosing the Clear Skies Initiative was like teaching three kids to swim and ignoring the fourth.  Sen. Lieberman then joined in the discussion stating that he believed it was possible to stop all four.  His analogy of choice was that you have four plants pumping toxic material in the air next to your house.  Do you stop three of the plants or all four?  He argued that people in the US have known about the problems associated with increasing CO2 in our atmosphere for 25 years now, referring to a 1979 National Academy of Science report that predicted a 2.5 to 4 degree Celsius rise in temperature associated with a doubling of CO2 -- a relationship echoed by the more recent reports.

    By the end of the hearing it was clear that multi-pollutant legislation was a goal of all members participating in the discussion -- everyone indicated a willingness to work for environmental benefits.  How far and how fast they should go (keeping in mind energy needs and resources, the economy, and the environment) stirred up major disagreement.  Impacts on health, particularly the great increase in asthma cases and premature deaths were pitted against costs to both individuals and companies   Some people fear that reducing CO2 emissions will impact the economy too negatively to make it worth doing at this point in time, others fear that choosing to not reduce CO2 emissions is setting ourselves up for greater health and environmental risks in the present and the future.

    -SPR & DBV

    Sources: Hearing testimony

    Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at

    Contributed by Summer 2002 AGI/AIPG Intern Sarah Riggen.

    Last updated August 7, 2002.

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