Summary of Hearings on Clean Air Issues (7-24-06)
A decade of scientific research indicates that fine particulate matter (PM2.5), defined as airborne material less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, poses a demonstrable risk to human health. Exposure to this material, which can be emitted by power plants, industrial plants, automobiles and other sources, has been linked to aggravated asthma, irregular heartbeat, heart disease, cancer and decreased lung function in children. Since 1997, PM2.5 has been regulated by the EPA under the Clean Air Act. Annual concentration levels, an average of measurements made in a given region over the course of a year, are not to exceed 15 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3). The EPA also regulates 24-hour levels to prevent harmful concentration peaks at times of increased activity or unfavorable weather conditions. The 24-hour concentrations are not to exceed 65 µg/m3. Because the sources of PM2.5 vary by location, cities and counties are responsible for regulating the appropriate sources in their region. The EPA is required by the Clean Air Act to regularly review its air quality standards utilizing the best available science and health data. According to language in the Act and a 2001 Supreme Court ruling, the EPA is unambiguously prohibited from using cost considerations in setting standards for air quality.
On August 29, 2003, the EPA issued a first draft staff paper advising the administrator to revise the annual PM2.5 levels down from 15 to 12 µg/m3 and the 24-hour levels down to a range between 50 and 30 µg/m3. Later editions, including the latest one published on December 21, 2005, recommended either maintaining the annual levels at 15 µg/m3 and reducing the 24-hour levels to 25 - 35 µg/m3, or reducing the annual levels to between 12 and 14 µg/m3 and the 24-hour levels to between 35 and 40 µg/m3. The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC)--a panel of independent experts appointed by the EPA administrator with authority granted by the Clean Air Act--undertook a review of the staff paper's recommendations. The review, which was published in June of 2005, indicated a general approval of EPA's analysis, but recommended that the annual PM2.5 limits be set at 13 - 14 µg/m3 and that the 24-hour limit be set between 30 and 35 µg/m3 in order to optimize protection for human health within the integrity of the science. EPA has not yet adjusted their recommendations accordingly, which places them in the unfortunate position of being in disfavor with both those who doubt the science and are concerned by the economic fallout of the revised limits and those who urge stringent protections in line with the advice issued by CASAC.
Chairman James Inhofe (R - OK) made clear his aversion to the EPA's proposal to tighten restrictions on the daily concentration of PM2.5. He accused the EPA of cherry-picking their data and of altering their review process to minimize public input. According to a report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the EPA neglected implementation of several recommendations produced by a National Academies report on how to analyze the health benefits of air quality standards. Senator George Voinovich (R - OH) felt that the PM2.5 standard should not be adjusted until the National Academies' recommendations have been implemented and the science about the toxicity of various components of fine particulate matter is more decisive. Voinovich asserted that the EPA should not act without a high level of certainty, because the economies of communities designated as non-compliant will suffer as industries are prevented from moving in or expanding.
Senator James M. Jeffords (I - VT) pointed out that the National Ambient Air Quality Standards have been designed by Congress explicitly to be based solely on health concerns, not on economic cost-benefit analyses. This standard was set specifically to avoid the problem, as Senator Jeffords put it, of "[measuring] a billion dollars of human life." Jeffords cited CASAC's conclusion that reducing the annual and the 24-hour PM2.5 standard would reduce PM-related mortality and morbidity by almost 50%.
Senators Barbara Boxer (D - CA) and Hillary Clinton (D - NY) pointed out that in setting the new annual limits the EPA had largely disregarded CASAC's findings that deleterious health effects were found at PM2.5 concentrations well below 15 micrograms per cubic meter. These effects were particularly pronounced among children and the elderly. Senator Thomas R. Carper (D - DE) added that the need to choose between a growing economy and cleaner air has been proven false since the inception of the Clean Air Act, from which time the nation has seen major economic growth and a significant improvement in air quality.
Dr. George Grey faced the brunt of both sides' frustration with the EPA's analytic process and results. He insisted that the EPA's methods of producing, evaluating and synthesizing the thousands of peer-reviewed studies related to the health effects of PM exposure was thorough and scientifically rigorous. He indicated that, while the links between poor health and exposure to PM are well established, tolerable levels and durations of exposure as well as the individual effects of different types of PM are not fully understood and require more research. He did not feel that Senator Boxer's concern over the level of monitoring in small cities and rural areas was justified, nor that contact that his staff might have had with the White House while writing their recommendations was significant, as Senator Clinton suggested. Clinton indicated that she wished to avoid a repeat of post- 9/11 efforts by the White House to pressure the EPA into downplaying the health risks to New York City residents who were exposed to soot from the World Trade Center. Mr. Stephenson discussed EPA's failure to implement the National Academies' recommendations, which he blamed on lack of funding and inadequate scientific data. He stressed the importance of continuous and improved monitoring, more exposure data and more information about the different components of PM.
The second panel agreed on the difficulty of analyzing the effects
of long-term exposure to high levels of particulate matter and the
importance of delineating the effects of different types of PM. They
otherwise represented a full spectrum of beliefs about the level of
regulation necessary or justified by the data. Dr. Smith was alone
in asserting that revisions to either the daily or annual standards
were unjustified, while Dr. Thurston asserted that the more stringent
annual limit of 12 µg/m3 was favorable.
The Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change, and Nuclear Safety of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee met on July 13, 2006 to discuss the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposed revisions to the Clean Air Act. The EPA is recommending that the daily emission standards for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) be reduced from 65 to 35 micrograms per cubic meter. The annual standard will be retained at 15 micrograms per cubic meter, even though the independent Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) had advised the EPA to reduce it to 13 or 14.
Republican senators are concerned about the costs associated with attaining these new standards. Subcommittee Chairman George Voinovich (R-OH) noted that there are a total of 208 counties in the US that are unable to reach the air quality standards set by the Clinton Administration in 1997. According to an American Petroleum Institute-funded study, this number could rise to 530 counties under the new EPA revisions. "I am concerned that the EPA is trivializing the impact of being designated 'non-attainment'," said Voinovich. He explained that conducting business in a non-attainment area is more complicated and expensive; for these reasons, non-attainment counties do not attract new industry and their economies continue to be depressed. Governors from the states of Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina and Wyoming are very concerned about the proposed revisions, and have recently written letters to the EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson urging him to consider the economic harm that a non-attainment designation could inflict on their states.
Democratic senators, on the other hand, said they would support the EPA's proposed standards for PM2.5 emissions. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) underscored the importance of protecting public health, and pointed to the fact that over 2000 peer-reviewed studies have shown direct linkages between fine particulate matter and various chronic illnesses. Ranking Member Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE) also emphasized that "the costs of breathing dirty air are a far heavier burden on our economy than the costs of air pollution controls."
A key issue in the hearing was whether the EPA considered the costs to industry when drafting its air quality proposal. Although Senator Voinovich suggested that compliance costs should be a factor in EPA decision-making, Senator Lautenberg reminded the subcommittee members that the EPA is barred by law from considering these issues. William Wehrum, the Acting Assistant Administrator of the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, testified that the agency does not consider cost-benefits when determining its recommendations. It does, however, prepare a publicly-available Regulatory Impact Analysis that assesses the costs and benefits of meeting the revised standards.
Chairman Voinovich and Senator John Isakson (R-GA), along with many of the witnesses, suggested that the cost of energy in the U.S. will increase if the new particulate matter standards are implemented. Conrad Schneider, the Advocacy Director for the Clean Air Task Force, explained that this is a common misconception. "There is no proven relationship between the Clean Air Act regulations and natural gas prices," he countered. "Particulate matter is the most important pollutant that the EPA regulates," Schneider concluded, "and setting protective air quality standards and implementing them should be EPA's top environmental health priority."
Wayne Nastri, Region IX Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection
On July 12, 2005, the Senate Environment and Public Works' Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change, and Nuclear Safety held a hearing on S. 1265, the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act of 2005. The legislation would authorize $1 billion worth of grants over five years to pay for the voluntary retrofitting of existing diesel engines. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would contribute 70% of the funds while states would contribute 20%, with the remainder coming from a federal fund-matching program. At least 50% of the grants administered by the EPA would go towards publicly owned truck fleets.
In his opening statement, subcommittee chairman and bill sponsor
Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) explained the need for his incentives-driven
diesel emissions bill, saying that the full benefits of EPA's current
diesel engine regulations "will not be realized until 2030."
According to Voinovich, EPA's 2001 Highway and 2004 Diesel Engine
rules "address only new engines, [while] the estimated 11 million
existing engines have long lives," and thus will continue to
Wayne Nastri, the Region IX Administrator of the EPA, said that retrofitting existing diesel engines was a very effective way to reduce pollution, with a "health benefit to cost ratio of up to 13 to 1." Even with this high benefit to cost ratio, Mr. Nastri said that, due to fiscal restraints, the administration cannot justify spending $200 million per year on retrofitting grants. "Although the Administration supports efforts to reduce emissions from both new and existing diesel engines, we are concerned that the funding authorized in this legislation goes well beyond the funding for such efforts called for in the President's 2006 budget," Mr. Nastri stated in his written testimony. He added that, given the continued tight limits on discretionary spending expected for the remainder of President Bush's term, the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act may face significant competition with other programs in the appropriations process if it is enacted.
Despite the challenges described by Mr. Nastri, other witnesses were fully supportive of the bill. "[S]tate funding is inadequate to support all of the necessary projects to ensure clean, healthy air for our residents," testified Margaret Keliher, county judge of Dallas, adding, "Federal funding for these emission reduction projects would be a welcome and timely addition to our toolkit." Joseph P. Koncelik, Director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, echoed these sentiments, stating that a federal grant program would allow counties in Ohio and other states to meet strict federal clean air standards.
Testimony from Conrad Schneider, Advocacy Director of the Clean Air Task Force, thanked the diverse stakeholders, including state and local governments, diesel fleet owners, technology providers, and environmental groups, for contributing to and advocating for the legislation. The senators in attendance offered similar support, stressing the importance of using incentives to update the existing fleet of diesel engines. But Senator James Jeffords (I-VT) questioned whether the proposed grant program, which is subject to discretionary appropriations, would be effective in the long run. Jeffords stated that "it may be time to consider giving EPA or the states sufficiently clear authority to impose tighter emission standards on the existing fleet of diesel engines."
The testimony of all the witnesses, including statements from industry representatives on diesel retrofitting technology, can be found on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee website.
On May 26, 2005, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality met to discuss the Bush Administration's Clear Skies Initiative. Throughout the hearing, a majority of subcommittee members expressed some degree of apprehension about Clear Skies Act, particularly since the Senate failed to pass the bill earlier this year. To some members who oppose Clear Skies, the existing Clean Air Act is more effective because it implements and enforces technology-based standards that the Clear Skies Act may eliminate. Even those who did not express strong opposition to Clear Skies requested that the EPA provide Congress with more consistent modeling information showing the benefits of the legislation.
During his opening remarks, the subcommittee's ranking member Rick Boucher (D-VA) asked, "is there really any need for this committee to spend time on something the Senate will not pass?" In March, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee failed to resolve a deadlock over the bill when majority and minority members were unable to reach a compromise on mercury regulations, carbon dioxide provisions, and how to set compliance deadlines. When House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) raised this question again to James Connaughton, the President's top environmental advisor, he replied that "Clear Skies is not dead," but that it "needs leadership in the House."
Committee members Hilda Solis (D-CA), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Thomas Allen (D-ME) and Henry Waxman (D-CA) stated strong opposition to the Clear Skies Initiative. The strongest opposition came from Solis who believes "Clear Skies is a big gift to corporate polluters it should be called 'Dirty Skies.'" Solis and others expressed concern that Clear Skies will eliminate enforcement standards while giving industry an additional decade to reach attainment. Another consequence of Clear Skies is that it may potentially create hot spots of mercury and NOx because of an unconditional, nation-wide cap-and-trade allowance.
Both Jeffrey Holmstead, a top EPA official, and Connaughton are strong supporters of the bill. They insisted that Bush's Clear Skies Act would dramatically reduce power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and mercury by approximately 70% from 2000 levels by setting a national cap on each pollutant. Holmstead testified that Clear Skies would "provide billions of dollars of economic benefits, including saving millions of dollars in health care costs." Based on the success of the Acid Rain Trading Program, Holmstead ensured the subcommittee that Clear Skies would "give industry flexibility in how to achieve the required emission reductions power plants would be allowed to choose the pollution reduction strategy that best meets their needs."
But some subcommittee members in opposition to Clear Skies believed that giving industry the freedom to choose their control technology would not lower pollutant concentrations, but would rather allow companies to continue emitting at current levels. To critics of the legislation, Clear Skies fails to strike an appropriate balance between the enforcement of control technology and industry freedom. In response, both Connaughton and Holmstead argued that Clear Skies is the only solution that would address both environmental protection and regulatory certainty on a national level.
After hearing the testimony, John Dingell (D-MI) asked for the panel to submit responses to the letter he sent on May 19th, 2005. Dingell also requested that the same modeling be used, and Holmstead responded that he will make sure there is an "apples to apples comparison."
For more information on the Clear Skies Act, please visit the EPA website
Members Present: Joe Barton (R-TX), John Dingell (D-MI), Ralph Hall
(R-TX), Rick Boucher (D-VA), John Shimkus (R-IL), Heather Wilson (R-NM),
Timothy Murphy (R-PA), Michael Burgess (R-TX), Hilda Solis (D-CA),
Eliot Engel (D-NY), Thomas Allen (D-ME) and Henry Waxman (D-CA).
After a 25 minute delay in the Clear Skies mark-up scheduled for February 16th, Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee James Inhofe (R-NM) announced that the mark-up would be postponed until March 2nd. According to Environment and Energy Daily, the Chairman held a last-minute meeting during the recess, in which the Majority members of the Committee met with Max Baucus (D-MT) to discuss options for winning his support and that of Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), votes needed to break the Committee's 9-9 tie over the bill.
To be discussed during staff talks in the next two weeks is an amendment proposed by Inhofe, George Voinovich (R-OH) Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO), which, among other gestures, moves up the deadline for reaching Phase II emissions caps from 2018 to 2016, establishes an EPA office to address mercury hotspots, proposes $650 billion in incentives for clean coal technology, and includes language addressing Carbon Dioxide and Global Warming.
On February 2nd, the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee held a final hearing on the disputed effectiveness of S.131, the Clear Skies Bill, before a scheduled mark-up of the bill February 16th.
The hearing featured testimony given by James L. Connaughton, the senior environmental advisor to the White House and interim EPA Administrator, who spoke emphatically in support of the Clear Skies bill. According to Connaughton's testimony, Clear Skies "creates the future for clean coal technology" by positioning emissions caps such that utilities are discouraged from switching from coal to natural gas. In response to concerns that the program would create uncontrolled, polluted "hot-spots," Connaughton stated that the cap-and-trade program would encourage the biggest polluters (largest power plants) to cut emissions first and "over-control," resulting in "same or better performance" nationwide. He also stated that the acid rain cap-and-trade program, launched in 1995, reduced SO2 hot-spots.
Democratic senators again expressed concern that S. 131 disables important tools for local governments to control emission, such as New Source Review (NSR) for new and modified power plants, and Section 126 of the Clean Air Act, which allows states to petition the EPA to reduce pollution transported from other states. In response to these concerns, Connaughton stated that states can impose additional restrictions in non-attainment areas, but that EPA petitions concerning pollution transport will not be permitted until the second phase, in 2009.
In the second panel of testimony, Brian Houseal of the Adirondack
Council, urged the committee to build on the Clean Air Interstate
Rule (CAIR) which the EPA will sign into effect in mid-march pending
the outcome of the Clear Skies legislation. John Walk from the National
Resources Defense Council testified that the health costs resulting
from Clear Skies' lower emissions standards would cost the nation
$61 billion in 2020 compared to $3.5 billion in implementation costs
to industry under the original EPA proposal.
No ground was covered over the issue of including CO2 caps in the bill. Brian Houseal stated the issue of CO2 is too politicized to include in the present multi-pollution legislation. He expressed the concern of many Republican Senators that introducing the CO2 question would jeopardize the reductions to be imposed upon SO2, NOX, and mercury.
On January 26th, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change and Nuclear Safety held the first hearing on multi-pollutant legislation in the 109th Congress. Opening statements and testimony diverged little from the on-going debate over the Clear Skies bill, and both sides remain in a stalemate over several issues, notably the inclusion of a CO2 provision and the issue of whether the new plan would undercut Clean Air Act standards.
Witnesses from the utility and manufacturing industries, US Conference of Mayors and the Indiana State Senate joined EPW Committee Republicans in endorsing a cap-and-trade approach as the option that would increase "certainty" by imposing tough national regulations without mandating the installation of expensive new equipment in every plant. They contended that added costs under stricter regulations would cause the replacement of coal by natural gas, drive up gas prices, and jeopardize industry jobs.
Opponents of Clear Skies persisted that, while national multi-pollutant legislation is needed, it must impose stricter standards, retain New Source Review (NSR) laws, and not undermine more stringent regional or local rules. John Paul from the Regional Air Pollution Control Agency testified that both proposals by Senator Carper and Senator Jeffords would come closer to achieving appropriate emissions levels.
All opponents questioned the wisdom and sense of disregarding CO2 in a major, comprehensive emissions bill. Proponents asserted that CO2 is "not a pollutant" and should be addressed in other legislation. Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) also pledged that any proposals to add CO2 mandates are "unworkable" and would kill any legislation before it reached the Senate floor.
Sources: Hearing testimony, Environment and Energy Daily.
Contributed by Emily Lehr Wallace, AGI Government Affairs Program Staff; Katie Ackerly, 2005 AGI/AAPG Spring Semester Intern; Amanda Schneck, 2005 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; John Vermylen, 2005 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; Jessica Rowland, 2006 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; and Carrie Donnelly, 2006 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on July 24, 2006