Summary of Hearings on Clean Air Issues (11-11-03)
- April 8, 2003: Senate Environment and
Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change, and
Nuclear Safety Hearing to Examine S. 485, the Clear Skies Act.
- May 8, 2003: Senate Environment and Public
Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change, and Nuclear
Safety Hearing to Consider S. 485, the Clear Skies Act.
- June 3, 2003: House Energy and Commerce
Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality, Status of Methyl Bromide
under the Clean Air Act and the Montreal Protocol.
- July 8, 2003: House Energy and Commerce
Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality Hearing on The
Clear Skies Initiative: A Multipollutant Approach to the Clean
- July 29, 2003:
Senate Environment and Public Works Hearing about Climate, Science
and the Health Effects of Mercury Emissions
- November 5, 2003: House Science Subcommittee
on Environment, Technology and Standards Hearing about the State
of Science and Technology in the Mercury Emission Debate.
Science Subcommittee on Environment, Technology and Standards
Hearing about the State
of Science and Technology in the Mercury Emission Debate
November 5, 2003
Dr. Thomas Burke, Professor and Associate Chair, Department of Health
Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health
Dr. David Krabbenhoft, Research Scientist, United States Geological
Dr. George Offen, Senior Technical Leader, Air Emission and Byproduct
Management, Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)
Mr. Ken Colburn, Executive Director, Northeast States for Coordinated
Air Use Management (NESCAUM)
At this hearing
on the state of science and technology surrounding the mercury debate,
members of the House Science Subcommittee on Environment, Technology
and Standards agreed that there is "compelling evidence"
of the health effects of mercury contamination. The panel heard from
academic, government, industry and environmental experts about the
ongoing regulatory and legislative efforts to control mercury emissions
from the utility industry. At the same time, the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) is readying a proposed rule that for the first time will
set mercury thresholds for coal- and oil-fired power plants on December
There is significant debate about how and to what extent mercury
emissions should be regulated. Members learned that consumption of
fish contaminated with mercury is a serious health threat. Dr.
Thomas Burke, Professor of Health Policy and Management at the
Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health emphasized
that mercury has been well studied and its potential harmful effects
have been well documented in both human and animal studies. He also
cited a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistic that
8 percent of U.S. women of childbearing age have mercury blood levels
that exceed those considered safe by the EPA. This further underscored
the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee heard in July
Rice, a former EPA senior toxicologist and now an official in
the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, said that low levels
of methylmercury (the type of mercury that accumulates in the food
chain) have been documented in men with cardiovascular disease.
Once the members were satisfied that a health threat exists, they
questioned whether mercury deposition is local, regional or global.
At issue are the main forms of mercury emitted from smokestacks. Ionic
mercury, also known as reactive gaseous mercury (RGM), oxidizes in
water and deposits faster and closer to the point of emission. Elemental
mercury is capable of traveling great distances before breaking down.
Because utility smokestacks give off both RGM and elemental mercury,
the emission affects the environment in all three ways. Dr.
David Krabbenhoft, Research Hydrologist at the U. S. Geological
Survey, testified regarding research in south Florida following regulation
of mercury emissions from medical and municipal waste incinerators.
He stated, "Over the past 5-6 years, there has been notable decline
in fish mercury concentrations observed... to the level of about a
60-70% reduction in fish tissue concentration." He added that
the State of Florida has concluded that this reduction is related
to the incinerator mercury regulations, but stressed that more research
is needed to fully understand the relationship. This seemed to confirm
several studies members had read indicating that although depositions
can be global, there appears to be a gradient of deposition with the
highest deposition downwind and close to the source of emissions.
Krabbenhoft's testimony also invited the members to debate whether
slowing emissions of mercury from power plants would actually decrease
the mercury levels in fish. Critics of regulation argue that there
is so much mercury already in the environment (known as "legacy"
mercury) that any reduction in current emission would be inconsequential.
However, recent research results suggest that new mercury may be more
active than old mercury, indicating that achieving reductions now
would have an effect on levels in fish. Dr. Krabbenhoft's testimony
about activities in south Florida further buttressed this argument.
on Krabbenhoft's research appeared in the August 2003 issue of
The question then turned to the appropriate levels of reduction.
At some plants, mercury removal rates of more than 90 percent have
been shown using technologies that are primarily intended to remove
other pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate
matter. However, the type of coal used largely determines the type
of technology needed to remove mercury. Plants that use subbituminous
coal (found in the Western U.S.) will not likely see large reductions
from existing technologies and will probably have to use a new technology
such as activated carbon injection.
Colburn, Executive Director of the Northeast States for Coordinated
Air Use Management (NESCAUM) argued:"Due to the pace of technology
development, the only real remaining barrier to controlling mercury
emissions from power plants is not a question of technology; it is
a question of will: it is the current absence of the regulatory driver
needed to create the opportunity --the demand -- for mercury control
technologies to come to market. At this point, coal-fired power plants
are not installing aggressive mercury control technologies because
they cannot do so; they aren't simply because there is no requirement
for them to do so." George
Offen, Senior Technical Leader for Air Emissions and Combustion
Product Management at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)
agreed with Colburn's statement. He said, "There's no doubt that...when
the standard is set the industry will meet it, because they're going
to abide by the law. I think the only question that I would raise
is at what level and how fast." He added that in the expectation
of standards, the industry has been spending quite a bit of money
Subcommittee Chairman Vern Ehlers (R-MI) spoke to the technology
debate, saying: "It is clear that while current technologies
do achieve significant mercury reductions as a co-benefit, we have
much to do to develop technologies specific to control mercury. It
may take regulation to create a market that will drive commercialization
of these technologies. Past experience has certainly demonstrated
that major advances in technology development follow regulation in
many fields, often at much lower costs than initially projected."
Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) summed up the hearing: "Clean
air is an environmental and public health necessity. In recent years,
the federal government and the states have acted to reduce the use
of mercury and to control its emission from medical and municipal
waste incinerators. Now it is time to move forward with a cost-effective,
rational plan to reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Controlling emissions will not only clear the air, it will provide
us with opportunities to develop, manufacture and market control technologies
here and abroad. We are not the only nation that utilizes coal. We
should promote these cleaner technologies and take full advantage
of the economic opportunities associated with this goal." (11/7/03)
Environment and Public Works Committee
Climate history, science, and health effects of mercury emissions
July 29, 2003
Levin, Program Manager, Electric Power Research Institute
Deborah C. Rice, Toxicologist, Bureau of Remediation and Waste
Management, Maine Department of Environmental Protection
Gary Myers, Professor of Neurology and Pediatrics, Department
of Neurology, University of Rochester Medical Center
On July 29th, the Senate Environment and Public Works
Committee heard testimony about the human health effects of mercury
emissions. Among the highlights of this hearing, Dr. Gary Myers, pediatric
neurologist and professor at the University of Rochester; member of
the University of Rochester team that has been studying the human
health effects of mercury for nearly 30 years said, We do not
believe that there is presently good scientific evidence that moderate
fish consumption is harmful to the fetus. However, fish is an important
source of protein in many countries and large numbers of mothers around
the world rely on fish for proper nutrition. Good maternal nutrition
is essential to the babys health. Additionally, there is increasing
evidence that the nutrients in fish are important for brain development
and perhaps for cardiac and brain function in older individuals.
In trying to answer questions about whether mercury deposits locally
or is more of a global problem, Dr. Leonard Levin, technical leader
of the Electric Power Research Institute said, "Recent studies
by EPRI have shown that the mercury depositing into the U.S. from
the atmosphere may originate at very distant points. Model assessments
show that, for 3/4 of the area of the continental United States, more
than 60% of the mercury received originates outside U.S. borders,
from other countries or even other continents. Only 8% of U.S. territory
receives 2/3 or more of its mercury from U.S. domestic sources, and
less than 1% of U.S. territory gets 80% or more of its mercury from
sources within the U.S. One implication of this dichotomy between
mercury sources and the U.S. areas impacted is that there may be a
management floor for U.S. mercury, a level below which
the amount of mercury depositing to the surface cannot be reduced."
For more information about the hearing, click
House Committee on Energy and Commerce
Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality
The Clear Skies Initiative: A Multipollutant Approach to
the Clean Air Act
July 8, 2003
Jeffery Holmstead, Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation,
US Environmental Protection Agency
On July 8, 2003, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy
and Air Quality held a hearing on the Administration's Clear Skies
Initiative (CSI). According
to the Subcommittee Chair Joe Barton (R-TX), the hearing was the first
of many on CSI. The hearing's lone witness, Jeffery Holmstead, testified
that CSI will provide great environmental benefits at the lowest possible
cost. Some representatives voiced their opinion that CSI does not
do enough to reduce emissions. Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) adapted a
Theodore Roosevelt quote, saying that CSI is "regulating softly
and carrying a big inhaler." Other members followed that same
line of questioning by raising concerns that CSI is less stringent
for mercury emissions than other proposed legislation. Holmstead responded
to these concerns by reiterating that CSI is a market based plan that
greatly reduces emissions and gives flexibility to industries. Rep.
Tom Allen (D-ME) asked if the Maximum Achievable Control Technology
(MACT) standards for mercury -- scheduled to be released by the EPA
in December 2003 -- will be stricter than the regulations in CSI.
Holmstead said that he was not sure about the details of the mercury
Reps. John Dingell (D-MI) and Henry Waxman (D-CA) raised concerns
that the EPA has been withholding information about CSI and that the
EPA has not given equal time to other proposed clean air legislation.
Holmstead assured the committee that they have received all the available
information about CSI. He continued saying that the EPA does as much
as possible with the resources they have available.
House Committee on Energy and Commerce
Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality
Status of Methyl Bromide under the Clean Air Act and the
June 3, 2003
Jeffrey M. Burnam, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Environment, Bureau
of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs,
US Department of State
Jeffrey R. Holmstead, Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation,
US Environmental Protection Agency
Rodney J. Brown, Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education and
Economics, US Department of Agriculture
Bill Pauli, President, California Farm Bureau
Reginald Brown, Vice-President, Florida Tomato Exchange
Rich Siemer, President, Siemer Milling Company
Michael Mellano, Senior Vice-President, Mellano and Company
Joseph W. Noling, University Of Florida
Jack Norton, Manager of Interregional Research Project No. 4, Methyl
Bromide Alternatives Program
David Doniger, Policy Director, Climate Center Natural Resources Defense
On June 3, 2003, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee
on Energy and Air Quality held a hearing to discuss the status
of the ongoing elimination of methyl bromide (MeBr) under the Montreal
Protocol and the Clean
Air Act. The subcommittee heard testimony from the Department
of State, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Agriculture
(USDA), members of the agricultural community, environmentalists,
and research scientists. Their testimonies are available online at
The combined testimony of the Department of State, EPA,
and USDA answered the question of the phase-out status. By 2003, the
use of MeBr should be reduced to 70% of its 1991 levels, in preparation
for its total phase-out in 2005. Many members of the agricultural
community testified saying that the ban on MeBr would be devastating
to their economic well being. For this reason, the Montreal Protocol
defines a critical use exemption for MeBr. The exemption applications
must be approved by consensus or a vote of 2/3 majority by the 183
nations that approved the protocol. The US applied for 16 crop exemptions
(tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, eggplant, and turfgrass to name
The panel was split on the idea of whether there are
alternatives to MeBr. Most of the panel agreed that there is no substitution
for every field and season. Jack Norton, however, testified that there
are comparable alternatives for the big-money crops of tomatoes, strawberries,
and peppers that account for the majority of MeBr use. Overall, Jeffery
Burnam said that he is fully confident in the exemption process and
at the moment there is no need for legislative involvement. Subcommittee
Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) said that Congress would introduce legislation
if they thought the American public was not getting a fair deal in
Senate Environment and Public
Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change, and Nuclear Safety
Hearing to Consider S. 485, the Clear Skies Act
May 8, 2003
Kyle McSlarrow, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Energy
James Krimmel, President, Zaclon Chemical
Richard Metz, Co-Executive Officer, UNIMARK, L.L.C.
Steve Thumb, Principal, Energy Ventures Incorporated
Joel Bluestein, President, Energy and Environmental Analysis Inc.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee
on Clean Air, Climate Change, and Nuclear Safety held the second
in a series of three hearings to consider S.
485, the Clear Skies Act, on May 8, 2003. Following the previous
hearing that broadly examined the legislation, this hearing focused
specifically on the effect the legislation would have on the natural
gas industry. The witnesses testified
that the economic consequences of Clear Skies Act would be manageable,
and encouraged passage of the Clear Skies Act over competing bills
proposing to regulate CO2 emissions.
Kyle McSlarrow, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department
of Energy, testified that a recent Energy
Information Administration analysis found that natural gas
consumption would increase form 35 trillion cubic feet in 2025
to 36 trillion cubic feet under the Clear Skies Act. Also, coal
consumption would decrease by 12% in 2025 compared to baseline
projections. In response to questions from Senator Tom Carper
(D-DE), co-sponsor of the competing S.
843 that includes CO2 regulations, McSlarrow went on to say
that including CO2 would place pressure on the natural gas industry
at a time when prices are already volatile. Carper responded that
any multi-pollutant legislation will result in additional costs,
but including CO2 regulations will cost industry only an additional
2%, which he thinks is worth the environmental benefits.
Joel Bluestein, President of Energy and Environmental
Analysis Inc., testified that the natural gas is the fuel of choice,
a tight natural gas market will remain regardless of the regulations,
and massive fuel switching from coal to natural gas on levels
that will threaten the economy has been over exaggerated. He went
on to say that multi-pollutant legislation should encourage a
new generation of coal plants to maintain a diverse fuel supply.
and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change, and Nuclear
Hearing to Examine S. 485, the Clear Skies Act
April 8, 2003
Christine Todd Whitman, Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection
Glenn McCullough, Jr., Chairman, Tennessee Valley Authority
Jim Rogers, CEO and President, Cinergy Corporation, on behalf
of the Edison Electric Institute
Chris James, State Air Director, Northeast States for Coordinated
Air Use Management
David Hawkins, Climate Center Program Director, Natural Resources
Eugene Trisko, United Mine Workers of America
Bernard Melewski, Adirondack Council
On April 8, 2003, the Senate Environment and Public
Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change, and Nuclear Safety
held a hearing to examine S.
485, the Clear Skies Act. The subcommittee heard from the
Environmental Protection Agency, industry, labor, and environmental
organizations. All of the witnesses agreed the Clean Air Act of
1990 needs to be amended, but how to amend the act has yet to
achieve a consensus. The witnesses were concerned with maximizing
environmental, health, and economic benefits.
The provisions to regulate mercury emissions raised
concern that the Clear Skies Act will lead to power plants switching
from coal to natural gas. Sen. Craig Thomas (R-WY) asked Whitman
what effect switching from bituminous to sub-bituminous coal as
a way to reduce mercury emissions will have on western skies.
Whitman replied that the administration does not believe the first
phase of the Clear Skies Act will require large investments from
power plants. She said the different ranks of coal were taken
into account when drafting the bill, and that they anticipate
it will lead to a 10% increase in bituminous coal use. Sen. John
Cornyn (R-TX) asked about the affect on lignite power plants.
Jeffrey Holmstead, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air
and Radiation at EPA, said they recognize it is more expensive
to remove mercury from lignite, and that was taken into account
when developing the allowance system.
There was some discussion as to whether CO2 should
be included in a bill to amend the Clean Air Act. Senators James
Jeffords (I-VT), co-sponsor of the competing S.
366 that does include CO2 regulations, and Tom Carper (R-DE),
who is expected to reintroduce his clean air legislation soon,
questioned the panel heavily on the CO2 issue. Full committee
chairman James Inhofe (R-OK), a co-sponsor of S.
485, commented that CO2 should not be regulated under the
Clean Air Act because it is not a pollutant; Whitman concurred.
Hawkins added that uncertainty about global warming policy has
caused investors to avoid supporting traditional or advanced coal
techniques, and it will stay that way until there is a market
incentive to the contrary.
The Subcommittee web
site contains the senators' opening statements and complete
testimonies of the witnesses.
Sources: Hearing testimony.
Contributed by Charna Meth, 2003 Spring Semester Intern; Deric R.
Learman, AGI/AIPG Summer 2003 Intern; Emily M. Lehr, AGI Government
Affairs Program Staff
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on November 11, 2003