WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, issued the following statement to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency on December 2, 2020.
“The EPA was established on December 2, 1970, to consolidate into one agency a variety of federal environmental responsibilities including research, monitoring, standard setting, and enforcement activities to ensure environmental protection while simultaneously safeguarding human health. The health of our streams, rivers, wetlands, and lakes is central to the fifty-year story of the EPA and the modern American environmental movement. The 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio famously galvanized support for the regulation of pollution in our water bodies. The Agency’s successful implementation of the Clean Water Act of 1972, in partnership with the States, is of particular relevance to Maryland for controlling pollution from wastewater, stormwater, agricultural enterprises, and hazardous substance spills.
“The EPA leads the federal agency partners in engaging the Chesapeake Bay Program, a grassroots effort with bipartisan support to preserve and restore the largest estuary in the country. Over the past four years, the Trump administration has sought to undermine the Chesapeake Bay Program and rolled back Clean Water Act protections critical to the restoration effort, proposing to eliminate the EPA Program’s budget in total dereliction of its duties as a key federal partner. Despite these challenges, the Chesapeake Bay Program has made steady progress toward achieving the nutrient reduction goals set out in 2010 in the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.
“The election of President Biden coincides with the 50th anniversary at a critical time for the Chesapeake Bay Program, as it enters the home stretch of the plan set out by 2025. This is significantly more likely once the EPA returns to proper levels of staffing and funding. President-elect Biden has indicated he will appoint an EPA Administrator who respects science and the duties of the EPA to move the Chesapeake Bay Program over this substantial milestone.
“The EPA is the lynchpin in the Chesapeake Bay Program. Maryland farmers have successfully stepped up to the plate to achieve nutrient reduction goals to that end. However, their efforts will be diminished if the EPA does not act as arbiter to hold states accountable for pollution upstream. In a preliminary analysis, the State of Maryland found that the Trump administration’s “Dirty Water Rule” may allow an additional 2.3 million pounds of nitrogen and an additional 57,000 pounds of phosphorus per year to enter the Chesapeake Bay. This is a shameful step backwards, costing Marylanders nearly 1 billion dollars over 20 years and effectively negating the money and efforts spent over the past half-decade. The “Dirty Water Rule” runs counter to the intention of the Clean Water Act and the EPA’s commitments to the watershed and is the kind of partisan policy that must be left behind entering this new chapter.
“Another essential aspect of the Clean Water Act necessary for the health of the Chesapeake Bay is section 401. This provision provides states authority to block or impose restrictions on entities applying for federal permits that result in the discharge of pollution into their water bodies. It is tool Maryland and other states in the region use to have a say in the federal permitting process that will affect their environment, economy, and public health. Cooperative federalism is at the core of the Chesapeake Bay Program and of CWA section 401. The Trump administration punitively narrowed its scope and removed climate from consideration, making it more difficult for states to determine pollution discharges that occur in their own backyard. This decision was not based on the hard work of EPA scientists, but on politics and has concerning implications for the future of the Chesapeake Bay and the Agency.
“The EPA has proved to be flexible and dynamic, tasked with understanding and addressing emerging environmental threats to human health. The next five decades will be no different. I am confident the EPA’s civil servants will rise to the occasion. Nevertheless, the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort will be challenged in the years ahead. State budget shortfalls due to the COVID-19 pandemic will hamper the watershed jurisdictions’ ability to invest in restoration. Increased rainfall due to climate change makes meeting pollution reduction goals more difficult even during periods of economic stability. Our water systems will continue to be stressed by warming temperatures and increased urbanization over the long term. Yet, with the strong federal presence of an EPA that produces policy based on scientific evidence and robust community input, I am hopeful that we can sustain a healthy, vibrant watershed for generations.
“Reducing carbon pollution and other forms of air pollution has generated enormous environmental, health, and economic benefits and enjoyed a reasonable level of bipartisan support over the last fifty years. While the Trump administration claims that rolling back clean air protections frees up economic activity, there is an increasing awareness that, in fact, reducing climate-warming emissions is critical to supporting a thriving, sustainable economy.
“Mr. Trump’s failure to strengthen national standards for particulate matter is a prime example of the important link between air pollution, climate, and public health. Fine particulate matter, or soot, from smokestacks, vehicles, industrial operations, and burning would can enter the lungs and bloodstream and cause inflammation that leads to respiratory and cardiac complications. Fortunately, many states, including Maryland, have maintained a strong commitment to protecting air quality and addressing climate change, but the EPA is indispensable: air pollution crosses borders and requires strong federal regulation to be managed.
“The Clean Air Act is a model of successful, sophisticated public policy. It applies free market mechanisms within a framework that protects the common good. We have substantially solved the problem of acid rain through an emissions trading system under the Clean Air Act. That model has been replicated throughout the world, and is increasingly seen as a part of the global climate solution. The key remaining element of international negotiations on the Paris Agreement rulebook is on the design of an international carbon trading system. For example, California employs a carbon trading system with two Canadian provinces. Maryland, under Republican and Democratic governors, benefits from participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative with nine other states.
“One of the greatest challenges for EPA is to fully incorporate climate change within its mandate. The failure of Congress to enact major climate legislation has led to EPA’s incremental incorporation of climate as part of its mandate, often under pressure from litigation by states, environment and health advocates. In 2009, the EPA issued an endangerment finding, which built on the Massachusetts v. EPA Supreme Court decision, documenting that greenhouse gases threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations. EPA then moved to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles and power plants under the Clean Air Act. Since then, investments in clean energy through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, along with the powerful market signals conveyed by governments through international climate negotiations, have driven a steady retirement of coal plants, increased reliance upon gas for electricity, but also a steady increase in clean energy, with wind and solar power becoming an increasingly large and cost-competitive share of our nation’s electricity.
“And yet, the Trump Administration used the 2016 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards decision to undermine emission standards for coal-fired power plants and increase exposure to mercury and other toxic chemicals in Maryland and regions downwind from coal-fired power plants. The result of this decision will be especially harmful to children, the elderly, and low income and minority populations, who already suffer from disproportionately high rates of asthma. Once in the air, mercury eventually settles into rivers and streams, or onto land, where it can be washed into water. Microorganisms in waterbodies can change it into methylmercury, where it builds up in fish and shellfish, contaminating seafood harvested in the Chesapeake Bay. Fortunately, I am confident that the EPA under the Biden administration will move to repair the damage done during these past four years and act quickly and aggressively to protect air quality.
“Among the most significant low-hanging fruit for Congress to support the EPA’s climate responsibilities is the phase-down of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), potent greenhouse gasses used as coolants in refrigerators, air conditioners and industrial applications that are the subject of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, a global agreement to protect the ozone layer. The Amendment must be ratified and EPA must be provided with authority through legislation to allow for the phase-down of HFCs and subsequent transition to the newer, better alternatives.
“I also urge my colleagues to support S.3269, The Clean Economy Act of 2020, legislation that would establish a plan for the United States to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, led by the EPA, which major economies such as the European Union, Japan, and South Korea, have already adopted. Pursuing carbon neutrality is increasingly recognized as the policy tool that may be the strongest driver of economic recovery and innovation for the coming decades. This would align us with a pathway to limit global temperature rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius and help avert the most catastrophic effects of climate change. EPA will play an increasingly important role in climate policy, which will be a key element of economic policy, domestically and internationally.
“Strong standards for air pollution and water quality have proven powerful drivers of innovation, efficiency, cost savings, and environmental protection. I urge my colleagues in Congress to join me in working to ensure that the EPA’s legacy for the next half-century integrates environmental and economic policy for the sake of our health, but also to remain competitive in a global economy that is moving toward sustainable technologies and practices.”
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