Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Clean Air Watch testimony on EPA particle soot plan

Testimony of Frank O’Donnell,
President, Clean Air Watch
March 8, 2006
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Public Hearings Regarding the Proposed Revisions to the PM Ambient Air Quality Standards
Holiday Inn Historic District
400 Arch St.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

I am Frank O’Donnell, President of Clean Air Watch, a national non-profit organization which seeks to promote clean air chiefly through public education.

Please let me start by thanking the agency’s career staff. We appreciate your dedication and public service. And we know that without your efforts, we would have made little or no progress in recent years against air pollution.

I want to make it clear that these remarks are not meant as criticism of career staff.

But I do ask you to convey this message to your political bosses.

With your permission, I would like to associate Clean Air Watch’s testimony with that of the American Lung Association regarding specific numerical recommendations.

I would like to use our few minutes to discuss some basic themes.

A large part of our mission at Clean Air Watch is to let the public know the truth about air pollution and how our government deals with the problem.

The sad truth here is that the Bush administration is misleading the public about the dangers of particle soot.

But there is still time for EPA to do the right thing.

This is probably the most important decision EPA will make this year.

Particle soot is the most lethal form of air pollution. EPA’s own staff studies have shown that literally thousands of Americans are dying prematurely from breathing these tiny particles, even at levels of pollution that are considered legal today.

That’s why EPA’s outside science advisors urged the agency to set tougher new standards to govern both annual and daily exposure to this deadly pollutant.

But for the first time in history, EPA disregarded its own science advisors on a national air quality standard, and proposed something weaker.

When confronted with this fact, and asked why he had ignored his own experts, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson had no coherent explanation. In fact, he sounded like a naughty child who was caught fibbing about something.

It’s as plain as day that this proposal – which was supposed to be based on science -- was contaminated by politics and White House interference.

These standards are supposed to represent the federal government’s assessment – based on the best available science – of what level of pollution is safe to breathe – with an adequate margin of safety to account for uncertainties and for groups like those in low-income communities who may be especially harmed by breathing dirty air.

By that measure, EPA’s proposal flunks the truth in advertising test.

The public should have the right to know if the air they are breathing can harm them.

It is time for EPA to come clean. And tell the public the truth.

And if the EPA Administrator is unwilling, or unable for political reasons, to do his job properly, perhaps he should consider taking the honorable path of stepping down, as at least one other EPA leader -- former New Jersey Governor Christine Whitman -- did when anticipating political pressure to do the wrong thing.

We know this is not the only recent instance in which the Bush administration contaminated science with politics, or tried to mislead the public about an environmental hazard.

We have all read the story NASA’s most prominent global warming expert, who was muzzled by a Bush administration censor. And we later learned that the red-pen guy was so far from being a scientific expert that had to lie about graduating from college!

In this case of deadly particle soot, there were other administration censors. We don’t even know who some of these people are.

But do know some of the things they did – for example, someone in the White House edited out a paragraph from EPA’s preamble which warned that people living in poorer communities face an extra risk from dirty air.

Someone in the White House also crossed out a sentence asserting that the air quality rules "may have a substantial impact on the life expectancy of the U.S. population."

At another point, the White House even told you what alternative standards you could take public comment on!

The White House is literally playing politics with people’s lives.

I will leave it up to some of my colleagues to go into more detail on some of the other glaring deficiencies of this proposal, including:

· the ludicrous plan to exempt mining and farming;

· the unprecedented decision to discriminate against and withhold key public health protections from people living in rural areas and smaller cities. (We think people in Manhattan, Kansas, deserve the same protections as people in Manhattan, New York.); and

· the truly stunning proposal not even to monitor for pollution in less-populated areas.

Let me conclude by noting that some business groups are gearing up – hiring professional “spin doctors” -- to argue against better particle pollution standards.

Contrast that with real medical doctors who want you to set standards that would truly protect people’s health.

I implore you: Listen to the real doctors, not the spin doctors.

Thank you for your time.

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