Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Senate EPW Hearing On Clean Air Act & Public Health

Jun 15: The Senate Environment and Pubic Works (EPW) Committee, Chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), with Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK), held a hearing on, "The Clean Air Act and Public Health." Witnesses included U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and representatives from: American Nurses Association; the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children's Health & the Environment at the Children's National Medical Center; University of North Texas; MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company; and Washington Adventist Hospital.
    Chairman Boxer indicated that she held the hearing to "conduct oversight on one of the most successful and significant public health statutes in our nation's history, the Clean Air Act" signed by President Richard Nixon in 1970. She cited numerous incidents of severe air pollution problems in the past and said, "While the Clean Air Act has dramatically improved health safeguards, more work remains to be done. A 2011 report by the American Lung Association shows that 154 million people live in areas with levels of toxic soot and smog pollution that current science demonstrates is dangerous."
    She said, "Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is required to strengthen protections if scientific data indicates that pollution adversely impacts public health, including children's health. Recently, EPA proposed much-needed federal safeguards to reduce toxic air pollution from old power plants by requiring the use of modern pollution controls. These proposed safeguards would reduce mercury, lead, and chromium, which are known to cause cancer and birth defects. When EPA reduces toxic air pollution, it helps families and children in communities across our country. . . In contrast to the unsupported claims by some polluters who argue that health threats from mercury and other air pollutants are "exaggerated," we will hear today from EPA Administrator Jackson and representatives from the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Nurses Association, and the American Thoracic Society, who are experts on the issue. These witnesses will describe the critical steps that have been taken to reduce dangerous air pollution, and the important work that remains to be done."
    Senator Inhofe said, "Over the past two years, the Obama EPA has moved forward with an unprecedented number of rules that will have enormous consequences for families, businesses, and the nation's fiscal well-being. Take for example, EPA's new greenhouse gas (GHG) cap and trade regulations. Administrator Jackson, you have admitted that regulating GHGs in the U.S. will have no impact on global GHG concentrations, yet your rules will come at an estimated cost of $300 to $400 billion annually. The Agency's voluntary reconsideration of the national ambient air quality standards for ground-level ozone -- a decision based on outdated data that could lead to significant economic constraints on the country -- is an another Agency action of dubious merit. EPA projects the cost of this rule in the order of $90 billion. Meanwhile, the Agency is planning to tighten the standards again in just two years. The Obama EPA is aggressively moving forward to regulate nearly all aspects of American life -- it now has regulations covering dust on farms and puddles of water along the side of road.  And it is businesses and working families who will pay the price. . ."
    Senator Inhofe also highlighted the recent announcement from American Electric Power (AEP) saying that because of EPA's proposed rules they would be forced to close nearly 6,000 Megawatts of "low cost (coal) power generation" and nearly 600 power plant workers will lose their jobs, totaling nearly $40 million in annual wages. He said, "These are good paying jobs in rural areas of Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Texas. These jobs won't easily be replaced." [See WIMS 6/10/11]. It should be noted, however, that the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) Energy Project released a 56-page report on June 13, entitled, Environmental Regulation and Electric Sector Reliability, that concluded among other things that the, "impacts on the reliability of the electric system due to retirements and retrofits necessary to comply with EPA regulations are manageable.
    Joe Kruger, Director for Energy and Environment, BPC Energy Project indicated in a cover letter to the report, "Overall, the report finds that the impacts on the reliability of the electric system due to EPA regulations are manageable and that there are tools available at the Federal, state, and local levels to address localized reliability risks. Nevertheless, the electric power sector and its regulators face significant planning challenges if the aim is to avoid localized reliability problems and minimize impacts on electric rates. Further, while recognizing the political difficulties, the report finds that there may be an opportunity to enact a legislative fix that could guarantee the environmental benefits of the Clean Air Act and provide a lower cost transition for the power sector." [See WIMS 6/14/11].
    Administrator Jackson testified that, "All Americans should be very proud of the significant progress we have made cleaning up our air. However, we still have more to do. For example, about 25 million people now battle asthma. One of those 25 million is my youngest son. I am reminded on a regular basis about the importance of cleaning up our air. . . The Clean Air Act saves lives and strengthens the American workforce, and, as a result, the economic value of clean air far exceeds the costs. Expressed in dollar terms, the benefits of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 alone are projected to reach approximately $2 trillion in 2020 with an estimated cost of $65 billion in that same year – a benefit to cost ratio of more than 30 to 1. . ."
    She reviewed the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards proposed on March 16 [See WIMS 3/16/11], to regulate mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants. She said The Clean Energy Group, a coalition of electric power companies, said, "Since 2000, the electric industry has been anticipating that EPA would regulate hazardous air pollutant emissions, and as a result, many companies have already taken steps to install control technologies that will allow them to comply with requirements of the rule on time. The technologies to control emissions at coalfired power plants, including mercury and hydrochloric acid, are available and cost-effective."
    She also discussed the "Clean Air Transport Rule," proposed on July 6 of last year [See WIMS 7/6/10], which she said "would significantly improve air quality in cities throughout the eastern half of the U.S. by requiring 31 states and the District of Columbia to reduce their emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) which contribute to ozone and fine particle pollution across state lines. . . we estimated that the rule would result in more than $120 billion annually in health benefits. . ."

    Access the EPW hearing website for links to all testimony, opening statements and a webcast (click here). [*Air]
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