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Public Statements

Stop the War on Coal Act of 2012

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. WAXMAN. Mr. Chairman and my colleagues, I oppose this amendment. It would make a terrible bill even worse.

Our Nation's environmental laws are founded on cooperative federalism. This is how it works:

The Federal Government sets minimum standards to assure that every American has a basic level of protection so no one is forced to breathe dirty air or drink dirty water. Then the States decide how to meet those standards, or set stronger standards if they choose. The States also implement the programs they adopt. Finally, if a State fails to act, EPA can step in and do the job itself.

This approach has worked well for over 40 years. It means that there is a healthy give-and-take between the States and the Environmental Protection Agency. The States receive Federal funds, and they run their own programs. But EPA has the tools to encourage the States to do more, where necessary.

Before Congress adopted the Clean Air Act in 1970 and the Clean Water Act in 1972, both signed by President Nixon, it was up to the States to control pollution. The problem was that many of them didn't do it. We had rivers catch on fire, smog so thick you couldn't see nearby mountains, and a tremendous toll on public health and lives.

It wasn't that States didn't want to clean up pollution, but if there are no minimum standards, States are forced into a race to the bottom. If a State wants to reduce pollution from oil refineries, the oil industry can threaten to build its new refineries in another State with looser requirements. The result is that States were afraid to require industry to clean up to the levels needed to protect the public.

This amendment, like other provisions already in the bill, overthrows the principles of cooperative federalism that have guided us for 40 years. Instead, it would leave various pollution control decisions almost entirely up to the States.

The proponents of this amendment claim that it is about EPA's Regional Haze Program. Every Member should understand that this amendment is not limited to regional haze.

The first part of the amendment is remarkably broad. It applies to all of the criteria air pollutants regulated by the States--smog, NO

X, fine particulates--and it applies in every area that is not meeting the health-based air quality standards.

This amendment says that even when a State fails to act, fails to control air pollution, EPA can no longer provide a backstop. EPA must wait at least 2 years before they can fill in for the States' failures. And there's no deadline for EPA ever to act, allowing unhealthy air quality to persist indefinitely. Citizens of that State would no longer have any recourse.

The second part of this amendment effectively eliminates minimum national criteria to protect air quality in our national parks.

The Clean Air Act has special provisions to protect air quality in the pristine lands that the Nation has set aside for all Americans to enjoy--our national parks, national monuments, and wilderness areas. After all, we go to the Grand Canyon to see the view. There's little point in protecting these lands if we allow their air and water to be polluted.

This amendment targets those Clean Air Act provisions. It says that when it comes to protecting the air quality of the national parks that belong to all Americans, the State where a park is located has sole discretion to decide how much, if any, pollution control would be required. EPA would no longer be able to require a minimum level of pollution reductions, and if the State failed to act entirely, as some have done, EPA would no longer be able to step in and set pollution controls.

The practical effect of this amendment would be to allow some of the oldest and dirtiest power plants in the country to continue polluting without standard pollution controls. I urge my colleagues to oppose this amendment.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. WAXMAN. This amendment is narrower than many of the provisions in this bill.

Instead of providing a blanket get-out-of-jail-free card for many polluters, like most of the provisions in this bill, this amendment provides a blanket get-out-of-jail-free card for one polluter--the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona. The amendment prohibits EPA from requiring pollution controls if it would adversely impact employment at the Navajo Generating Station or at other coal plants or coal mines on tribal lands in northern Arizona.

Now, if you listened to the debate on the last amendment, you might have thought this is another dispute about whether EPA or the States should set the standards; but Arizona has no authority to control air pollution on tribal lands, and the tribe has not established its own program to set the standards. That means, by barring EPA from requiring pollution controls, this amendment would have the effect of ensuring modern pollution controls are not installed on this plant.

And that's a problem.

The Navajo Generating Station is a huge power plant--over 2,000 megawatts. It's also old. The Navajo Generating Station began operating almost 40 years ago, and it was built without standard pollution controls. And it's dirty. This plant spews almost 20,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, or NO

X, each year. This is a dangerous air pollutant. NO

X forms small particles that penetrate deep into the lungs, causing emphysema, bronchitis and other respiratory diseases, heart attacks, and premature deaths.

The Navajo Generating Station is the fifth highest emitter of NO

X pollution in the United States, and this plant harms the air quality at 11 national parks and wilderness areas. These are some of our Nation's most treasured and popular national parks. Almost 12 million Americans visit these parks each year. They travel there because it's part of our natural heritage of the Nation and because it belongs to all of us--but not if this amendment passes.

This amendment says that polluters' interests in continuing to pollute trumps Americans' interests in having clean air in their national parks. This amendment would remove EPA's authority to protect clean air in the national parks, so I urge my colleagues to stand up for clean air and to oppose this amendment.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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