June 18, 2014

Republican EPA Administrators Call for Action on Climate Change

Four Former Administrators who Served Republican Presidents Testified Today in EPW Subcommittee Hearing

Washington, DC – Four Republican former Administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) testified today about the need to address climate change at a hearing in the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety.  In a hearing chaired by Subcommittee Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), the Administrators spoke about their experience working on regulations to protect the environment and public health, and pointed out that industry has a history of developing innovative ways to comply with environmental regulations in ways that cost significantly less than initial estimates.

The four Administrators testifying today were William D. Ruckelshaus, EPA Administrator for Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan; Lee M. Thomas, EPA Administrator for President Ronald Reagan; William K. Reilly, EPA Administrator for President George H.W. Bush; and Christine Todd Whitman, EPA Administrator for President George W. Bush and former Governor of New Jersey.  Also testifying were Dr. Daniel Botkin, Professor Emeritus of Biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara; Luther Strange, Attorney General for Alabama; and Dr. Joseph R. Mason, Hermann Moyse, Jr./Louisiana Bankers Association Endowed Professor of Banking at Louisiana State University, and Senior Fellow at The Wharton School.

Whitehouse began the hearing by asking: “Each of you have had the first-hand experience of having to make decisions that were surrounded by fears and anxieties about perhaps dire consequences of your decision.  How did the worst fears and assumptions of bad outcomes from environmental regulations turn out in reality as the rules were applied in your own experience?”

“We have, as EPA Administrators, served four Presidents over four decades,” Ruckelshaus noted in his opening statement.  “We have successfully wrestled with a variety of public health and environmental problems, all contentious, including severe automobile and industrial air pollution, widespread water pollution and the unacceptable effects of pesticides like DDT…  In all of the cases cited, the solutions to the problems did not result in the predicted economic and social calamity.  Scientific uncertainty or the inevitable industry resistance does not mean that nothing should be done unless we are willing to suffer the consequences of inaction.”

Ruckelshaus added, “We believe there is legitimate scientific debate over the pace and effects of climate change but no legitimate debate over the fact of the earth’s warming or over man’s contribution.”

In response to Whitehouse’s question, Whitman spoke about her experience implementing regulations for air conditioners.  “When we were working on increasing the efficiency of air conditioners, we were being sued by everybody, including the DOE, saying it was absolutely impossible to take it to 10 SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) – that this was going to kill the industry.  We went through, we went ahead, we found one company that said ‘no, we can do this.’  Carrier air conditioners said they could do it.  They did it, they started producing more highly efficient air conditioners, and now everyone has a exceeded those rules by… we took them to 11 percent, they are now at 23 percent.  The ingenuity by the American system kicked in the minute that they knew this was real, it was going to happen.  Not only did we not see a loss in jobs, or loss in dollars, we saw this whole industry achieve new levels that we didn’t think were possible.”

Administrator Reilly spoke about the consequences of climate change if we fail to act, saying, “…change is underway and we can expect to see many more disruptions, more intense storms, more wildfires, the spread of pests and diseases, storm surges that overwhelm coastal communities, heat waves, and other impacts on our health, on water resources, on food production, and on other sectors of our economy.  The longer we delay, the more adverse the impacts will be, and the more expensive to address them.”  He added, “We have the know-how, the ingenuity, the entrepreneurial spirit, the ability to demonstrate leadership in tackling this challenge.  While the President has taken many important steps, a full and constructive response is needed from Congress, and I encourage you and your colleagues to have the kinds of discussions that will lead to congressional action.”

Administrator Thomas highlighted the measurable effects of climate change on the oceans.  “We know global sea level has risen by an average of eight inches since 1870 primarily from thermal expansion caused by warmer oceans and the melting of glaciers and the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets.  We know that ocean acidification is occurring, harming our coral reefs and marine ecosystems.  Absorbing about a quarter of our emissions each year, the current rate of acidification is roughly 50 times faster than known historical change… Clearly more action is needed to address the impacts today while addressing the larger issue of committing ourselves to avoiding dangerous levels of future warming.”

“Clearly more action is needed to address the impacts today while addressing the larger issue of committing ourselves to avoiding dangerous levels of future warming,” Thomas concluded.


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