04.06.11

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On Efforts To Undermine The Clean Air Act

I urge rejection of all of the amendments offered today that would gut the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to enforce our Clean Air Act.

It has been proven time and time again that we can have both a clean environment and grow our economy. In fact without a clean environment, it is more difficult for us to grow the economy. Without the Clean Air Act we would be spending trillions of dollars more on health care costs and lost work days. Over its 40 years the Clean Air Act has been one of the world’s most successful environmental and health protection laws – reducing exposure to pollutants such as lead, ozone, sulfur dioxide, smog-forming gases, and mercury and other heavy metals and toxics. 

Thanks to the Clean Air Act millions of lives have been saved by preventing premature deaths, heart attacks, cancer, asthma, and other life-threatening illnesses.  But even after 40 years of action, pollution in many areas of the country still violates basic health standards, putting tens of millions of Americans’ lives at risk. 

In Vermont, while we don’t have any coal-fired power plants, we are still the victims of their pollution as it travels by wind across our borders into the Green Mountain State.  Throughout the Nation, hundreds of thousands of Americans suffer every year from illnesses linked to emissions from power plants, refineries and other large sources of air pollution and greenhouse gases.

Yet there are some powerful special interests and some members of this body who would like to strip the EPA of its authorities to enforce the Clean Air Act because they reject the notion that greenhouse gases are air pollutants and harmful to public health, or they believe that we just cannot afford clean air. Methane, nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, hydrofluorocarbons and other compounds are the ingredients of a pollutant cocktail forced on many millions of Americans.  

The Supreme Court has determined that the Clean Air Act is “unambiguous” and that greenhouse gases, such as those I just mentioned, are “without a doubt” air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.  As such, EPA is required to regulate these emissions since they endanger public health. The Supreme Court has given the EPA little choice, and the science is clear they must act.

The McConnell amendment would have politics, not science, decide which pollutants are hazardous and which pollutants should be regulated. If politics had been allowed to trump the compelling scientific evidence, we may have never phased lead out of gasoline, or reduced ozone-depleting chemicals, or tackled acid rain. Over the years powerful special interests have sought to block EPA’s actions on all of these issues, arguing that the science was weak and the costs unjustified. Once again they are crying wolf and trotting out the same discredited arguments to fight greenhouse gas regulations today. 

In enforcing the Clean Air Act, EPA is doing the job that Congress mandated decades ago. These amendments that attack the Clean Air Act would force the EPA to turn a blind eye toward polluters, the same polluters that are spending millions of dollars to lobby against the Clean Air Act.  

I urge every Senator to talk to the parents and grandparents of children in their home states who suffer from asthma. Take the time to hear about the trips they have had to take to the emergency room and about the countless hospital stays because of the air they breathe, something so many of us take for granted. These attacks on the Clean Air Act would also lead to more heart attacks, more strokes, more cancer, and shorter lives.

I arrived in the Senate just five years after the Clean Air Act of 1970 was introduced and unanimously passed by the Senate.  I have supported efforts to reduce life-threatening pollutants, such as lead and mercury.  And I will support efforts to reduce hazardous greenhouse gases, just as a majority of Americans do. 

The truth is that the McConnell amendment and the other EPA amendments we will vote on today would hurt public health, cost consumers more, stifle the invention of new pollution prevention technologies which grow the U.S. economy and jobs, and further slow our transition to renewable energy sources. Since passage of the Clean Air Act, the benefits have proved to be 42 times greater than the estimated costs of cleaning our air. Our GDP has tripled since the Clean Air Act was passed. 

In Vermont we are fortunate to have two of the pre-eminent innovation companies in the world, IBM and GE. These corporations and others like them rely on regulatory certainty when deciding what investments to make in research, technology, and expansion into new markets. These attempts to strip EPA of its authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions would send the wrong market signals to our innovators.

Myths are myths and facts are facts, and the fact is that pollution standards are by law both achievable and affordable. 

They encourage energy efficiency, which reduces energy demand, reduces fuel consumption, drives down our dependency on fossil fuels and foreign oil, reduces operating costs, and lowers energy prices.  In fact the most prevalent compliance response to EPA’s carbon regulations will be using current and newly developed technologies to increase a plant’s energy efficiency.

The McConnell amendment would render meaningless the progress that we have already made to invent new products that consume less fuel, pollute less, and create American jobs – jobs that cannot be sent overseas.  The McConnell amendment would penalize those pioneering facilities that have already taken steps to clean up industry, and reward those who have seen these new standards coming for years, but have chosen to do nothing to protect the public.  Instead they now pressure Congress to let them off the hook and to pass the long term health costs along to the public. 

The evidence in favor of embracing a cleaner future is clear.  We have an opportunity to encourage our innovative companies to be global leaders in new clean energy technologies that will create jobs here in America.  We must stop supporting the dirty, outdated and inefficient technologies of the past. 

By eliminating EPA’s ability to impose scientific, health-based limits on carbon pollution from the Nation’s largest polluters, the McConnell amendment and the other amendments that attack the EPA would only end up taking a hefty toll in Americans’ health and costing consumers more by increasing oil consumption and forcing them to pay higher fuel costs.

We need to support efforts for clean air and to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.  Lives are at stake. In 2010, in just one year, the Clean Air Act prevented 160,000 cases of premature death. By 2020, that number is projected to rise to 230,000.

The air we breathe is the heritage of the American people, not the property of the big polluters. 

The people of this great country deserve better, and they want clean air as well for their children and grandchildren. That is why I urge defeat of these amendments to gut enforcement of the Clean Air Act. Stand up for a future with clean energy and economic growth that depends on a clean environment. Take a stand for the American innovation that will create more American jobs and technology to protect the public’s health and the environment. And help more Americans live longer lives.

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