Cantwell in Floor Speech Opposes Attempt to Undermine Clean Air Act

Senate votes to defend science-based greenhouse gas ruling; recommits to passing comprehensive energy and climate legislation

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) spoke out against a proposal to overturn the landmark December 2009 Clean Air Act decision and April 2007 Supreme Court ruling that greenhouse gases are pollutants. The proposal by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) would revoke the science-based determination by the Environmental Protection Agency that greenhouse gases threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations of Americans. Senator Cantwell voted with the majority to reject the measure, which failed today on a vote of 47 to 53. 
Click here to watch a video of Senator Cantwell’s remarks.
***High quality audio and video available upon request.***
Senator Cantwell’s remarks as delivered follow:
Madam President, I thank Senator Boxer for her passionate leadership in defense of the Clean Air Act and the pollution protections this bedrock law provides every American.  I appreciate her yielding me time to speak in opposition to the Resolution of Disapproval introduced by Senator Murkowski. 
Madam President, I don't think any of my colleagues would disagree that the Clean Air Act has been one of the most effective environmental laws ever passed in our Nation. It has literally saved the lives of thousands of children who would otherwise have suffered terribly from the effects of air pollution. 
The economic benefits of the Clean Air Act are immense, and it has been credited with turning around a dire acid rain problem that was threatening the natural heritage of all of New England.  The critically important 1970 amendments to the Act were a bipartisan bill.  Those improvements -- really called the Muskie Act, in honor of the key role played by the former Senator from Maine, Ed Muskie -- were, of course, signed into law by a Republican President, Richard Nixon.

The next major revisions came 20 years later, in 1990, and those improvements cracked down on acid rain and lead in our gasoline supply. 
But today we are talking about a Resolution that would undermine the Clean Air Act, rather than strengthen it. We are actually debating whether to overturn the science-based determination that greenhouse gases pose a threat to the public health and welfare to the current and future generations of Americans. 

Madam President, the Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that greenhouse gases are pollutants and are covered by the Clean Air Act.  Consequently, the court held that the Environmental Protection Agency must make a determination, based on the available science, about whether greenhouse gases pose a threat to the public.  EPA engaged in a thorough public process, assessed the available scientific evidence, and ultimately determined that greenhouse gases do pose a threat to public health and welfare.
The reason I recount all this history, Madam President, is to show that these findings are not the casual or capricious action of a small group of bureaucrats.  Rather, they are the result of a long and transparent process prescribed by statute and the highest court in the land. 
In announcing her resolution last January, my colleague, Senator Murkowski, said: 
“We should continue our work to pass meaningful energy and climate legislation, but in the meantime, we cannot turn a blind eye to the EPA's efforts to impose back-door climate regulations.”
While I fully agree with my colleague on the first point -- we do need to work together on meaningful energy and climate legislation -- I have to say I disagree on the second point, about the back-door regulations.  Though Congress may not have specifically anticipated greenhouse gas emissions when the Clean Air Act was originally passed, the same can be said of many pollutants.  Indeed, when the 1970 law passed, only five pollutants were initially listed.  Since then, dozens of additional pollutants have been listed and the air we breathe is better for it.  This is not an example of an agency overreaching; it is the way the Clean Air Act was designed to work.

The drafters of the Clean Air Act never claimed they could predict all of the pollutants that might someday fall under its jurisdiction.  That is why they established a framework and a public process that could be used to regulate any pollutant that science --
science -- ultimately identified as a threat to public health and welfare. 
Today, 40 years later, we have come to the point where thousands of scientists, working throughout the federal government and around the world over the course of decades, have identified a serious risk associated with the emissions of greenhouse gases.  Given the these scientific findings, the legal mandate from the United States Supreme Court, and the statutory requirements spelled out in the Clean Air Act, the EPA has a responsibility to act. 

For Congress now to undermine that process would be to undermine the Clean Air Act itself and the sanctity of science-based policymaking.  It would be a very bad precedent, and it would be a threat to our children and to the environment in which we want them to grow up.