Speeches & Floor Statements

Remarks Of Sen. Alexander - Clean Air Planning Act

Posted on July 14, 2003

Mr. President, I want my Senate colleagues to know that I have decided to join Senators Carper, Chafee and Gregg as co-sponsor of the Clean Air Planning Act. I have studied the major clean air proposals before the Senate and concluded that this legislation is the best balanced proposal because it would reduce pollution emitted by power plants while permitting the maximum possible economic growth and energy efficiency. I hope other colleagues will come to the same conclusion as the debate about how to clean America's air becomes front and center. Cleaner air should be urgent business for the Senate. The condition of the air in my state, Tennessee, is completely unacceptable to me and ought to be completely unacceptable to every Tennessee citizen. My home is two miles from the boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which has also become the nation's most polluted national park. Only Los Angeles and Houston have higher ozone levels than the Great Smokies. Only a few miles away from the Great Smokies is Knoxville, which is on the American Lung Association's list of top ten cities with the dirtiest air. Memphis and Nashville - our two largest cities - are on the top 20 list. And Chattanooga barely escapes the top 25 list. This polluted air is damaging to our health, especially that of the elderly, small children, and the disabled. It ruins the scenic beauty of our state - which is what most of us who grew up in Tennessee are proudest of. And it is damaging our economic growth. Clean Air is the number one priority of the Pigeon Forge Chamber of Commerce. Business leaders there know that visitors are not going to drive 300 miles and spend their tourism dollars to see smoggy mountains. The mayors of our major cities also understand that cleaner air means better jobs. They know that if our metropolitan areas are not able to meet federal standards for clean air, new restrictions will make it harder for auto parts suppliers and other industries to expand and bring good, new jobs into our state. The mayors also know that their cities cannot comply with the federal standards without some help. Tennessee's clean air problem requires a national solution. Much of our air pollution is our state's own doing, specifically that which comes from emissions from cars and trucks and from the coal-fired power plants of the Tennessee Valley Authority. But as much as a third of our air pollution comes from outside Tennessee. Winds blow pollution south from the industrial Midwest and north from the South toward the highest mountain range in the eastern United States, the Great Smokies -- and when the wind gets to mountains, the pollution just hangs there, which is an additional reason why the Great Smokies and the Knoxville metropolitan area have such a problem.
* * * * *
There are three major clean air proposals before the Senate. I have studied each to determine which would be best for Tennessee and for our nation. The most important of these proposals is President Bush's "Clear Skies" legislation. The President deserves great credit for putting clean air at the top of the agenda as only a president can do. Because his proposal relies upon market forces instead of excessive regulation, it limits costly litigation and creates certainty. In addition, the President's proposal would take significant steps forward in reducing sulfur, nitrogen and mercury pollutants. Last year during my campaign for the Senate, I made clean air a priority and often said that the President's proposal is an excellent framework upon which to build meaningful clean air legislation, but that it does not go far enough, fast enough to solve Tennessee's problems. The Clear Skies legislation is a good start but it does not go far enough, fast enough in my backyard. I believe the Clean Air Planning Act, which I am co-sponsoring, is the best proposal for Tennessee and for our nation. First, the Clean Air Planning Act adopts the market-based framework of the President's proposal so that it also reduces regulation, litigation and creates certainty. Second, it would take our country farther, faster in reducing three major pollutants: sulfur, nitrogen and mercury. Third, it extends its market-based framework of regulation to carbon dioxide, with a modest requirement that by 2013 the carbon emitted by power plants would be at 2001 levels causing a three to five percent reduction in the overall United States projected level in 2013. Fourth, the Clean Air Planning Act does not weaken existing laws in two important ways that the Clear Skies proposal would.
  • First, Clear Skies would prevent Tennessee for ten years from going into court to force another state to meet the federal clean air standards. Since pollutants blowing in from other states is one of our greatest problems, this is a legal right we do not want to give up.

  • Second, the Clear Skies proposals would remove the right of the national park service to comment on the effect of power plant emissions more than 30 miles away from a national park. Again, since much of the pollution in the Smokies is blown in from more than 30 miles away, this is a review that ought to be continued.
* * * * *
While the President's proposal, in my judgment, does not go far enough, the other major proposal before the Senate goes too far, too fast. It is a proposal by Senator Jeffords, the Clean Power Act, which requires carbon emissions of the utility sector to be at 1990 levels by the time we reach the year 2009. I believe this proposal would cost so much to implement that it would drive up the cost of electricity and drive offshore thousands of good jobs. It would significantly damage our economy and our future. There is also the Climate Stewardship Act, sponsored by Senators McCain and Lieberman would regulate carbon emissions produced by the entire economy and does so on a very rapid timetable. I would not support these proposals because I am not convinced that they are based upon good science. It would be foolish to take huge expensive steps to solve problems which we don?t know exist - but it is also unwise to completely ignore what we do know. My reading of the report of the National Academy of Sciences on Global Warming and my discussions with scientists, especially those at Oak Ridge, have persuaded me that some additional steps must be taken to limit carbon dioxide emissions. The Senate is working on clean air legislation that will likely govern our production of energy and accompanying pollution for the next 10 to 15 years. It would be unwise to do nothing, just as it would be unwise to do too much. The President has recognized the seriousness of problems with carbon emissions and has initiated a voluntary program of emission reduction, which is having some success. For the next 10-15 years, I believe we should take the next step and institute modest market based caps. It is important to recognize that our Clean Air Planning Act applies only to carbon produced by power plants, not that produced by the entire economy. In fact, it would permit power plants to purchase credits from other sectors of the economy, which could prove to be a substantial income for agriculture. There is still much to learn about the effect of human activity on global warming, specifically that caused by the production of carbon dioxide. I will continue to monitor the science as it is presented and make my judgment at the time based upon what I believe to be good science. Senator Carper has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to review our proposed legislation to determine its effect on the health of Americans and its cost. According to the EPA analysis prepared in November 2002, the Clear Skies Act would prevent 11,900 premature deaths, 7,400 chronic bronchitis cases and 10,400 hospitals visits. Our Clean Air Planning Act would prevent 17,800 premature deaths from air pollution, 5,900 more people annually than under Clear Skies and save $140 billion in health care costs, $50 billion more than Clear Skies. The EPA internal analysis also estimates that Clear Skies would cost electric utilities $84.1 billion in 2010, while our legislation would cost $86.2 billion in 2010. In 2020, Clear Skies would cost $100.9 billion; our legislation would cost $103.4 billion. In short, according to that EPA internal analysis, our legislation does a better job of improving health and reducing health care costs than Clear Skies, and would cost only slightly more.
* * * * *
Last week, before the Senate Energy Committee, we discussed again the emergency that is being caused by a shortage of natural gas and the consequent higher prices. Chemical companies are reducing salaries, reducing jobs and considering moving jobs overseas. Americans living in homes heated by natural gas should expect a 20 to 30 percent increase in their bills this winter. During the last week in July, the Senate will have the opportunity to consider both the natural gas crisis and the urgent need for cleaner air. We will be debating the energy bill, which has been reported by our committee. The bill's purpose is to encourage a diversity of cleaner, newer technologies for producing energy, so that we may have a steady supply of low cost energy and at the same time a cleaner environment. But for us to avoid facing repeated winters with higher gas prices, to keep jobs from moving overseas, and to keep our air clean and healthy, we are going to have to face some tough decisions and make different choices than we have so far been willing to make.
  • We need to explore for natural gas in Alaska and other areas in the United States and build a new pipeline to bring it south;
  • We need to shed our reluctance to use nuclear power plants that we invented and join France, Japan and the rest of the world in expanding our use of this clean form of energy;
  • We need to advance our understanding and use of clean coal technologies, especially coal gasification. Coal produces one half of our electricity and will continue to produce much of it for the foreseeable future;
  • We should make increased use of other renewable forms of energy including solar, ethanol and wind power;
  • We need to get serious about sensible conservation practices, such as using alternatives to idling truck engines when truckers are stopped for a break;
  • I am proud to be the principal sponsor of President Bush's hydrogen car proposal, which offers great promise in the long term to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and to clean our air because its fuel uses no oil or gasoline and its only emission is water.
In summary, Mr. President, President Bush has made a good beginning by placing clean air on the agenda and offering a framework to build a strong proposal - but, with respect, he hasn't gone far enough, fast enough. On the other hand, my colleagues, Senators McCain, Lieberman and Jeffords go too far, too fast relying on unsettled science to put controls on our economy that are unjustified and would cost so much that thousands of jobs would go overseas. The Clean Air Planning Act, which I co-sponsor, is the best-balanced solution. It has the advantages of the market-based approach suggested by the President. It goes farther, faster than he does in reducing pollutants from sulfur, nitrogen and mercury. It places modest controls on carbon. And it does not weaken the existing clean air law. Devising a plan for maintaining the proper balance of clean air, efficient energy and good jobs for the next 10 to 15 years deserves the urgent attention of the United States Senate, and I look forward to being an active participant in the debate.