Testimony of Christine Todd Whitman

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Testimony of Christine Todd Whitman

Before the Clean Air Subcommittee of the Committee on Environment and Public Works


By: Christine Todd Whitman

Date: April 8, 2003

Source: Whitman, Christine Todd. Testimony of Christine Todd Whitman, Administrator United States Environmental protection Agency, Before the Clean Air Subcommittee of the Committee on Environment and Public Works United States Senate, April 8, 2003. Available online at 〈http://www.epa.gov/clearskies/testimony.html〉 (accessed January 17, 2006).

About the Author: Christine Todd Whitman was appointed Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush; she resigned in 2003. Prior to heading the EPA, Whitman was elected the first female governor of New Jersey, serving that post from 1994 to 2000.


The growing awareness among scientists of the impact of industrial and other human activities upon the gaseous composition and balance of atmosphere is leading the United States and other countries to promote stronger legislation to curb air pollution levels. Among the multiple effects of air pollution, the first to draw the attention of authorities was its impact upon the public health in specific communities exposed to industrial emissions of air pollutants. These effects were initially considered local or regional problems, with further implications for the environment (e.g. agriculture, wildlife, forests, freshwater sources, and climate) widely ignored or challenged. However, since the late nineteenth century, scientists created predictive models or scenarios to illustrate how the Industrial Revolution and its polluting practices would affect the climate in the future. Jean-Baptiste Fourier (1768–1830), John Tyndall (1820–1893) Svante Arrhenius (1859–1927), and T.C. Chamberlain (1843–1928) first assessed how the increased emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) could cause what Fourier called a "greenhouse effect," leading to global warming and unpredictable climate changes.

During the 1950s, American Scientists David Keeling and Roger Revelle raised again the issue of greenhouse gases and their possible role in global warming, with Keeling starting the first continuous monitoring-program of CO2 levels in the atmosphere. His reports illustrated yearly increases of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. The American Society for the Advancement of Science issued a comprehensive report on human-induced climate changes and global warming in the early 1980s, which again raised controversy among skeptical scientists and politicians, and was largely ignored by most governments. The suggestions from this and other reports for the need of governmental commitment in reducing and preventing further emissions from fossil-derived fuels (such as coal, gasoline, and diesel fuel) were seen as an economic burden that would arrest or prevent development and jeopardize employment. In 1988, climate scientists gathered in Toronto, Canada, and strongly recommended the immediate adoption of reduction measures to cut 20 percent of CO2 emissions by 2005. In the same year, the United Nations founded the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a permanent work-group with the mission of analyzing and periodically reporting on the subject. In the United States, the Clean Air Acts of 1970 and 1977 were the only air pollution regulatory measures until January 2002, when the Bush Administration proposed the Clear Skies and Global Climate Change Initiatives.

Earth's atmosphere is a relatively thin layer of naturally occurring gases. The troposphere is the lower strata where all exchanges between living beings (such as plants, animals, and humans), natural ecosystems (such as oceans, forests, mountain ridges, and hydrographic systems), and the atmosphere take place. Methane and CO2 are released into the troposphere by plant respiration and organic matter decomposition, and cyclically reabsorbed by plants and the oceans, therefore maintaining planetary temperatures in a delicate and dynamic balance. Dramatic increases or decreases of large populations of ruminating animals (animals that chew the cud, such as cattle, sheep, goats, or deer), for instance, may affect the amounts of methane in the troposphere. Methane and carbon concentrations are also affected by the increase or decrease in size of forests and marshlands, along with volcanic activity.

Paleoclimatology, or the study of ancient climatic cycles, has greatly contributed to the understanding of climatic changes that have naturally occurred throughout Earth's history. Polar icecaps and old glaciers trap different concentrations of atmospheric gases over thousands of years in their many layers. Data analysis from glacial samples has shown that changes in concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor are directly associated with climate changes, the whether the changes result in cooling or warming the planet. The more recent increase in the greenhouse effect, however, is mainly attributed to human-related emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxides, perfluorocarbon compounds, and tropospheric ozone, called the "greenhouse gases". For example, industrial activity was responsible in the last one hundred years for a 30 percent increase in carbon dioxide concentrations and a 100 percent increase of methane, plus a 15 percent increase in nitrous oxides in the troposphere. In the United States, power factories, heating systems, and motor vehicles do account for approximately 98 percent of the country's carbon dioxide emissions, 24 percent of methane, and about 18 percent of nitrous oxides emissions. If no further reduction and preventive measures are adopted, estimates point to a thirty to 150 percent elevation of these concentrations in the atmosphere by the year 2100, with a major impact on climatic patterns and global temperature. Several studies have reported that the United States alone is responsible for about one-fifth of the total emissions of the planet.

In 2001, the Bush administration commissioned the EPA to present an analytical study with models designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while not adversely affecting economic growth and jobs. This project was named "The Clear Skies and Global Climate Change Initiatives." In 2002, the Presidential Clear Skies Act was presented to the Senate, aiming to cut emissions of the three worst air pollutants and greenhouses gases. The Clear Skies Initiative aimed to cut three toxic air pollutants by 70 percent: nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and mercury, therefore improving air quality and public health. The Global Climate Change initiative provided research grants and was designed to achieve an 18 percent reduction of greenhouse gases concentrations over the following ten years.

The Clear Skies Initiative had as its central goals the following: to dramatically and steadily cut power plant emissions of the three worst air pollutants mentioned earlier; to develop new tools to measure emissions and a system to credit emission reductions, under the form of incentives, for businesses that register voluntary reductions; to review progress on climate change and take new actions in 2012, if necessary; to secure the provision of yearly federal funds, during five years, for climate-change-related prevention programs; to develop a comprehensive new set of domestic and international policies to promote expanded research and development of climate-related science and technology, expanded use of renewable energy, and incentives for sequestration of already emitted air pollutants; and to design a better alternative for emission reductions and prevention than that of the Kyoto Protocol (an international agreement among developed nations that limits emissions of greenhouse gases).

The Clear Skies Initiative of 2002 was further improved by the Clear Skies Act of January 28, 2003. The 2003 Act established federally enforceable limits (or caps) for all three pollutants, and presented a dynamic regulatory policy of emission caps and trading, thus providing power plants with the necessary flexibility to achieve reductions in a cost-effective manner. It also encouraged state and local governments to set their own limiting regulations for source-specific emissions to ensure that the air quality standards are achieved.



Testimony of Christine Todd Whitman


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Before the Clean Air Subcommittee

Of the Committee on Environment and Public Works

United States Senate

April 8, 2003

I. Introduction Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee for the opportunity to speak with you today about the Clear Skies Act of 2003. Based on one of the most successful programs created by the Clean Air Act, Clear Skies is a proposal to substantially reduce emissions of the three most harmful pollutants from power generation—and to do so in a way that is much faster and more efficient than under current law. As President Bush said in the State of the Union Address, Clear Skies will advance our goal of "promot[ing] energy independence for our country, while dramatically improving our environment." The Administration is committed to working with this Subcommittee and Congress to pass legislation this year. The widespread support for multi-pollutant legislation to reduce power plant emissions is a strong indicator that the time for action on this critical issue is now. Failure to enact Clear Skies this year will delay important public health and environmental benefits.

This country should be very proud of the progress we have already made in cleaning up our air. Since the Clean Air Act was first enacted in 1970, we have reduced emissions of the six primary air pollutants by 25 percent. During the same time period, the economy has grown significantly—the Gross Domestic Product increased 160%; vehicle miles traveled increased 150%; energy consumption increased 40%; and the U.S. population increased 35%.

Although we have made much progress since 1970, we still face major air quality challenges in many parts of the country. Clear Skies is the most important next step we can take to address these challenges and achieve healthy air and a clean environment for all Americans. Clear Skies would make great strides towards solving our remaining air quality problems in a way that also advances national energy security and promotes economic growth. It would reduce power plant emissions of SO2, NOx and mercury by approximately 70 percent from today's levels and do it faster, with more certainty, and at less cost to American consumers than would current law. Last year's EPA estimates project that, over the next decade, all the programs of the existing Clean Air Act would reduce power plant emissions of SO2 and NOx by approximately 23 million tons. Over the same time period, Clear Skies would reduce emissions of these same pollutants by 58 million tons—a reduction of 35 million tons of pollution that will not be achieved under current law.

When fully implemented, Clear Skies would prolong thousands of lives each year, providing billions of dollars in economic benefits, save millions of dollars in health care costs, and increase by millions the number of people living in areas that meet our new, more stringent health-based national air quality standards. Clear Skies would also virtually eliminate chronic acidity in northeastern lakes, reduce nitrogen loading in coastal waters, and help restore visibility in our national parks.

The Clean Air Act has been, and continues to be, a vehicle for great progress in improving the health and welfare of the American people. The Clear Skies Act substantially expands one of the most successful Clean Air Act programs—the Acid Rain Program—and reduces the need to rely on complex and less efficient programs. The result would be significant nationwide human health and environmental benefits; certainty for industry, states and citizens; energy security; and continuing low costs to consumers.

II. Clear Skies Provides Significant Benefits The heart of Clear Skies is a proven cap-and-trade approach to emissions reductions. Mandatory caps restrict total emissions and decline over time. Clear Skies would continue the existing national cap-and-trade program for SO2, but dramatically reduce the cap from 9 million to 3 million tons. Clear Skies would also use a national cap-and-trade program for mercury that would reduce emissions from the current level of about 48 tons to a cap of 15 tons, and would employ two regional cap-and-trade programs for NOx to reduce emissions from current levels of 5 million tons to 1.7 million tons.

… Although national in scope, Clear Skies recognizes and adjusts for important regional differences in both the nature of air pollution and the relative importance of emissions from power generation. The eastern half of the country needs reductions in NOx emissions to help meet the ozone and fine particle standards, which generally are not an issue in the western half of the county (with the exception of California, which does not have significant emissions from existing coal-fired power plants). The western half of the country needs NOx reductions primarily to reduce the regional haze that mars scenic vistas in our national parks and wilderness areas, and the nitrogen deposition that harms fragile forests. Recognizing these regional differences, Clear Skies would establish two trading zones for NOx emissions and prohibit trading between the zones to ensure that the critical health-driven goals in the East are achieved.

Clear Skies also recognizes the special visability protection measures that have been developed by states participating in the Western Regional Air Partnership (WRAP). Clear Skies would essentially codify the WRAP's separate SO2 backstop cap-and-trade program, which would come into effect only if the WRAP states did not meet their 2018 SO2 emissions targets.

Finally, Clear Skies requires tough, technology-based new source standards on all new power generation projects and maintains special protections for national parks and wilderness areas when sources locate within 50 km of "Class I" national parks and wilderness areas.

Significant Public Health and Environmental Benefits The public health and environmental benefits of Clear Skies present compelling reasons for its immediate passage. EPA projects that, by 2010, reductions in fine particle and ozone levels under Clear Skies would result in billions of dollars in health and visibility benefits nationwide each year, including as many as 6,400 prolonged lives. Using an alternative methodology, 3,800 lives would be prolonged by 2010. Under EPA's base methodology for calculating benefits, Americans would experience significant benefits each year by 2020, including:

  • 12,000 fewer premature deaths (7,000 under an alternative analysis),
  • 11,900 fewer visits to hospitals and emergency rooms for cardiovascular and respiratory symptoms,
  • 370,000 fewer days with asthma attacks, and
  • 2 million fewer lost work days.

Using the alternative methodology, by 2020 Americans would experience 7,000 fewer premature deaths each year.

Methodologies do not exist to quantify or monetize all the benefits of Clear Skies. Still, it is clear that the benefits far exceed the costs. EPA estimates that the health benefits we can quantify under Clear Skies are worth $93 billion annually by 2020—substantially greater than the annual costs of approximately $6.5 billion. An alternative approach projects annual health benefits of $11 billion, still significantly outweighing the costs. The Agency estimates an additional $3 billion in benefits from improving visibility at select National Parks and Wilderness Areas. These estimates do not include the many additional benefits that cannot currently be monetized but are likely to be significant, such as human health benefits from reduced risk of mercury emissions, and ecological benefits from improvements in the health of our forests, lakes, and coastal waters.

Clear Skies would achieve most of these benefits by dramatically reducing fine particle pollution caused by SO2 and NOx emissions, which is a year-round problem. Of the many air pollutants regulated by EPA, fine particle pollution is perhaps the greatest threat to public health. Hundreds of studies in the peer reviewed literature have found that these microscopic particles can reach the deepest regions of the lungs. Exposure to fine particles is associated with premature death, as well as asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis, decreased lung function, and respiratory disease. Exposure is also associated with aggravation of heart and lung disease, leading to increased hospitalizations, emergency room and doctor visits, and use of medication.

By reducing NOx emissions, Clear Skies also would reduce ozone pollution in the eastern part of the country and help keep ozone levels low in the western portion of the country. Ozone (smog) is a significant health concern, particularly for children and people with asthma and other respiratory diseases who are active outdoors in the summertime. Ozone can exacerbate respiratory symptoms, such as coughing and pain when breathing deeply, as well as transient reductions in lung function and inflammation of the lung. Ozone has also been associated with increased hospitalizations and emergency room visits for respiratory causes. Repeated exposure over time may permanently damage lung tissue.

Current estimates indicate that more than 350 counties fail to meet the health-based fine particle and ozone standards. As a result, 45% of all Americans live in counties where monitored air was unhealthy at times because of high levels of fine particles and ozone. Clear Skies, in combination with existing control programs, would dramatically reduce that number…. Throughout the West, Clear Skies would hold emissions from power plants in check, preserving clean air in high-growth areas and preventing degradation of the environment, even as population and electricity demand increase.

Clear Skies would also reduce mercury emissions from power plants. EPA is required to regulate mercury because EPA determined that mercury emissions from power plants pose an otherwise unaddressed significant risk to health and the environment, and because control options to reduce this risk are available. Mercury, a potent toxin, can cause permanent damage to the brain and nervous system, particularly in developing fetuses when ingested in sufficient quantities. People are exposed to mercury mainly through eating fish contaminated with methylmercury.

Mercury is released into the environment from many sources. Mercury emissions are a complex atmospheric pollutant transported over local, regional, national, and global geographic scales. EPA estimates that 60% of the mercury falling on the U.S. is coming from current man-made sources. Power generation remains the largest manmade source of mercury emissions in the United States. In 1999, coal-fired power plants emitted 48 tons of mercury (approximately 37% of man-made total). These sources also contribute one percent of mercury to the global pool.

Mercury that ends up in fish may originate as emissions to the air. Mercury emissions are later converted into methylmercury by bacteria. Methylmercury accumulates through the food chain: fish that eat other fish can accumulate high levels of methylmercury. EPA has determined that children born to women who may have been exposed to high levels may be at some increased risk of potential adverse health effects. Prenatal exposure to such levels of methylmercury may cause developmental delays and cognitive impairment in children. Clear Skies will require a 69% reduction of mercury emissions from power plants.

In addition to substantial human health benefits, Clear Skies would also deliver numerous environmental benefits. For example, under Clear Skies, we project that 10 million fewer pounds of nitrogen would enter the Chesapeake Bay annually by 2020, reducing potential for water quality problems such as algae blooms and fish kills. In fact, the Chesapeake Bay States, including NY, VA, MD, PA, DE, WV and DC, recently agreed to incorporate the nitrogen reductions that would result from Clear Skies legislation as part of their overall plan to reduce nutrient loadings to the Bay. Clear Skies would also accelerate the recovery process of acidic lakes, virtually eliminating chronic acidity in many Northeastern lakes. For decades fish in the Adirondacks have been decimated by acid rain, making many lakes completely incapable of supporting populations of fish such as trout and small-mouth bass. The Acid Rain Program has allowed some of these lakes and the surrounding forests to begin to recover; Clear Skies would achieve additional needed reductions. Clear Skies would also help other ecosystems suffering from the effects of acid deposition by preventing further deterioration of Southeastern streams. Finally, Clear Skies would improve visibility across the country, particularly in our treasured national parks and wilderness areas.

Clear Skies is designed to ensure that these public health and environmental benefits are achieved and maintained. By relying on mandatory caps, Clear Skies would ensure that total power plant emissions of SO2, NOx and mercury would not increase over time. This is a distinct advantage over traditional command-and-control regulatory methods that establish source-specific emission rates but which allow total emissions to increase over time. Like the Acid Rain Program, Clear Skies would have much higher levels of accountability and transparency than most other regulatory programs. Sources would be required to continuously monitor and report all emissions, ensuring accurate and complete emissions data. If power plants emit more than allowed, financial penalties are automatically levied-without the need for an enforcement action. More importantly, every ton emitted over the allowed amount would have to be offset in the following year, ensuring no net environmental harm. This high level of environmental assurance is rare in existing programs; Clear Skies would make it a hallmark of the next generation of environmental protection.


According to the 2003 testimony of EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman before the Senate Clean Air Subcommittee, the Clear Skies Act of 2003 will show a most significant positive effect on public health by 2010. Reductions in fine particulate matter (such as black smoke and soot) and tropospheric ozone should yield several public health benefits, such as a reduction in premature deaths by 7,000-12,000 cases per year; a 11,900-visit decrease in hospitalization and emergency rooms calls due to cardiovascular and respiratory symptoms per year; the prevention of 2 million lost work days due to air-pollution-related illnesses; and 370,000 fewer incidences of asthma attacks.

Other benefits of Clear Skies legislation should have a direct effect on the recovery of lakes and aquatic animals, due to less acid rain, which kills fish and disturbs the food chain in rivers, marshlands, and lakes. Forests are also affected by acid rain, and the resulting acidification of soils is a chief cause of the drastic reductions in maple sap extraction (from which maple syrup is made) in the last three decades. Air visibility should also improve as emissions steadily are reduced, and should therefore benefit migrating birds, wilderness areas, and national parks. New jobs and economic activities will be created as new technologies are developed, such as eco-friendly car engines and fuels, new energy sources and know-how, emission-prevention equipment, and recycling technologies.


Web sites

"Clear Skies Act of 2003—Fact Sheet." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, February 7, 2003. 〈http://www.epa.gov/air/clearskies/pdfs/fsfeb27.pdf〉 (accessed March 7, 2006).

"Global Warming—Emissions." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 〈http://yosemite.epa.gov/oar/global warming.nsf/content/Emissions.html〉 (accessed January 17, 2006).

"Ice Core Extends Climate Record Back 650,000 Years." Scientific American.com, November 28, 2005. 〈http://www.sciam.com/print_version.cfm?articleID=00020983-B238-1384-B23883414B7F0000〉 (accessed March 7, 2006).

"President Bush Announces Clear Skies and Global Climate Change Initiatives." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 〈http://www.epa.gov/clearskies/pdfs/clear_ skies_factsheet.pdf〉 (accessed January 17, 2006).