May 21, 2008

Senate Committee Approves Bill to Let Rhode Island Move Forward on Emissions Cuts

Senator Whitehouse Supports Move to Override Bush EPA Decision; Panel Approves Legislation to Cut Pollution and Improve Water Quality

Washington, D.C. – Rhode Island’s push to set tough new standards restricting greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks took a step forward today as legislation to override the Bush Administration’s objections gained the approval of a key Senate committee.

The move comes amidst an intensifying Congressional investigation into the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s decision to reject a request by California, Rhode Island, and several other states to implement the stronger restrictions. U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who has helped lead a Senate inquiry into evidence of political interference at EPA, joined a bipartisan group of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee members to pass the Reducing Global Warming Pollution from Vehicles Act of 2008 (S. 2555), effectively approving the states’ request legislatively.

“Allowing Rhode Island and other states to set tough vehicle emissions standards is one of the strongest and most common-sense steps we can take to begin to tackle the enormous challenge of global warming,” said Whitehouse. “Over and over again, this administration has put blind ideology before science, and our environment and public health have paid dearly. This bill sends a strong message that we will not allow this president and his polluter allies to undermine our efforts to protect our environment and safeguard public health.”

In 2005, California adopted standards for passenger cars, pick-up trucks, minivans and SUVs that require a gradual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions beginning in model year 2009. According to an analysis by Environment Rhode Island, if every state that has adopted the California standard were allowed to implement the stronger vehicle emissions regulations, including Rhode Island, cumulative global warming emission reductions could reach as high as 392 million metric tons by 2020 – the equivalent to taking 74 million of today’s cars off the road for an entire year.

Last December, EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson denied California’s request to adopt these standards. In January of this year, California, Rhode Island, and several other states and environmental organizations sued EPA to overturn the decision. In testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform yesterday, Johnson refused to disclose whether he discussed his ruling with White House officials, as documents and other evidence suggest.

The EPW Committee today also passed other legislation that will help improve water quality and combat pollution in Rhode Island. The Marine Vessel Emission Reduction Act (S. 1499) would require new regulations limiting pollution from commercial ships. Currently, commercial shipping emissions account for an estimated 2.7 to 5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, roughly equivalent to the carbon dioxide emissions of all U.S. cars and trucks. This legislation will lower sulfur emissions from commercial ships from the current level of 27,000 parts per million to approximately 1,000 parts per million.

The BEACH Act (S. 2844) will double funding provided to states annually to support water quality improvements, tracking, and monitoring to $60 million.

Finally, the Committee passed an amendment to the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 that would give the shipping industry new incentives to use safer double-hull ships rather than single-hull vessels. The measure would phase out the federal liability to pay for oil spills involving single-hull ships by 2010. This will help avoid future oil spill disasters, such as the North Cape oil spill in Narragansett Bay in 1996. Whitehouse, in his former role as Rhode Island’s U.S. Attorney, led the investigation into that disaster, ultimately recovering $9.5 million for the United States.


Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921