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Special Event

EPA Announces New Federal Rules to Cut Air Pollution

Aired May 17, 2000 - 2:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The Clinton administration is making a big push today for cleaner air and safer food. For starters, the EPA will announce new pollution rules this hour for big rigs and buses. A generation ago, the cry was "get the lead out." Well, today you might say it's "so long sulfur."

Our coverage begins with CNN White House correspondent Kelly Wallace -- Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, President Clinton said the proposed measures represent, in his words, another major milestone in the administration's efforts to ensure cleaner, healthier air for all Americans. But critic says the news rules would lead to increase in fuel costs, and that those costs would eventually be passed on to the consumer.

The Environmental Protection Agency says that the new rule and the changes would bring an end to dirty smoke spewing out of large tractor trailer rigs, heavy-duty trucks and buses, and that these vehicles would become as clean as the natural-gas buses of today. The overall goal: reducing the amount of smog and soot in the air. According to the EPA, smog and soot causes 15,000 premature deaths, 1 million respiratory problems and 400,000 asthma attacks in the U.S. every year.

The EPA rules would require trucks and buses to cut smog-causing nitrogen oxides by 95 percent and soot by 90 percent by 2010, and require petroleum refiners to cut the amount of sulfur in their diesel fuel by 97 percent by June of 2006.

But many groups, including truckers and small and large petroleum refinery companies are not happy. The refinery companies say they were willing to cut the amount of sulfur in diesel fuel by 90 percent, but they say 97 is much too much, and that the consumers will pay the price.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED MURPHY, AMERICAN PETROLEUM INSTITUTE: We think the amount -- the reduction in the sulfur content of diesel fuel, which is roughly 97 percent, is more than is needed to meet the environmental goals the EPA has identified and will cause some supply interruptions and cost increases and adverse effects on the U.S. consumer and economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: But to that, the EPA says it is giving the industry time to provide cleaner diesel fuel and that the agency estimates the cost increase would be more like two to three cents a gallon.

Now, these right now are just proposals. They do not require congressional approval, but what they do require is public comment. The EPA will be holding five public hearings around the country, but it hopes to have these rules finalized by the end of the year.

Kelly Wallace, CNN, reporting live from the White House.

ALLEN: And EPA administrator Carol Browner will make these rules official -- proposals official in just a moment. We'll bring you her comments live.

Now to Lou.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The EPA also is raising new concerns today about the cancer risks from dioxin, a group of pollutants that can get into our food.

CNN medical correspondent Eileen O'Connor has been looking into that. She joins us now from Washington -- Eileen.

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, the Environmental Protection Agency is declaring dioxin a human carcinogen, a chemical that causes cancer in humans. That's up from a probable carcinogen about nine years ago. In a draft report currently under inter-agency review, that assessment could be altered by scientists.

Dioxin is found naturally and in industrial byproducts, especially through medical and public waste incineration and paper production. It was first identified as a toxin in Agent Orange, a chemical sprayed by U.S. troops in Vietnam to clear target areas of trees and bushes. Dioxin enters the human food chain when animals such as fish or cattle eat contaminated plants. The chemicals collect especially in their fat. Dioxin is also found in dairy products and even breast milk, making childhood intake higher than that in later years. But the EPA says the danger is cumulative. Still, officials say the food supply is safe and consumers should not panic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAROL BROWNER, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: The current version of this draft risk assessment does show that the health risks associated with dioxin are greater than previously suspected. But I think it's important for everyone to understand that the benefits of a balanced, low-fat diet continue to be good for all reasons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'CONNOR: That is highlighted in the report because the report concludes that the cancer risk from dioxins among people who eat large amounts of fatty meets and dairy products may be as high as one in 100, though the number of people consuming this kind of rich diet is very small.

The EPA says levels of dioxin have already been reduced dramatically by some 80 percent between 1987 and '95, and they have imposed new regulation on industrial dioxin emitters in the past five years, which they believe will help even more.

The chemical and manufacturing industry leaders say the EPA oversteps the science in this assessment and that they are out of step with the rest of the world on the risk associated with dioxin -- Lou.

All right, Eileen O'Connor in Washington.

Carol Browner, EPA administrator, has just stepped to the podium in Washington.

BROWNER: Today, the Clinton-Gore administration is proposing to dramatically reduce by 97 percent the amount of sulfur presently in diesel fuel in order to create the cleanest running heavy-duty trucks and buses in the history of this country. This action will provide greatly improved air quality for all Americans. It will reduce smog- causing nitrogen oxides from these vehicles by 95 percent. It will reduce harmful particulate matter or soot by 90 percent. It is the clean air equivalent of removing from the air the pollution generated by 13 million of today's trucks. As a result of today's announcement, diesel trucks and rule -- and buses will run at least as clean as today's natural gas buses.

Every American who has driven behind buses or heavy-duty trucks is very familiar with the smell of diesel fuel and the clouds of thick exhaust emissions. Such air pollution is not just dirty and annoying, it is a threat to our health, particularly in light of growing evidence linking it to lung cancer.

Soot and smog pollution are scientifically associated with 15,000 deaths annually and a million cases of respiratory problems each year. These air pollutant are responsible for some 400,000 cases of asthma attacks every year, including thousands of aggravated cases of asthma, especially in our children.

Last year, President Clinton announced the toughest tailpipe standards ever for passenger cars, minivans, sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks. To achieve that goal in effective and affordable ways, we treated clean fuels, conventional gasoline and clean vehicles as a single system for the first time. Today, we take the same approach with regard to diesel fuels and heavy-duty trucks and buses.

Today's action would reduce the sulfur content in diesel fuel by 97 percent. This means that, for the first time ever, heavy-duty trucks and buses would be able to use pollution-control devices to meet emissions standards, just as passenger cars have been doing for the last 25 years.

These devices are sensitive to sulfur and will not work unless the amount of sulfur in the diesel fuel is dramatically reduced. That is why today's action is good news for everyone who wants to breathe healthier air, and especially good news for children, for senior citizens, and for people with existing respiratory problems.

The fact is that the current diesel vehicles can emit almost eight tons of air pollution per year. By reducing sulfur content in diesel fuel and requiring new engine standards, we would produce for the first time a fleet of dramatically cleaner heavy-duty trucks and buses for America.

If finally adopted as proposed, these requirements will mean that over 100 million Americans now living in areas that have difficulty meeting clean air pollution standards will be able to breathe healthier air in the future.

In the past, engine manufacturers have been able to meet permissive emissions standard without the aid of control devices. However, the stringent standards in this proposal will result in the first broad use of emission-control devices such as three-way catalyst and soot traps on these larger engines. These devices will allow manufacturers to produce engines that are dramatically cleaner than those on the road today.

This proposal allows adequate lead time and flexibility for industry to meet these new standards. The current level for sulfur in diesel fuel of 500 parts per million would be reduced to 15 parts per billion by June of 2006. New trucks and buses would be required to meet standards progressively beginning in 2007 with full compliance by 2010. This will assure that the transition to cleaner vehicles can be accomplished cost-effectively and without any disruptions.

We are also taking comment on ways to provide additional flexibility for the smaller diesel fuel refiners.

ALLEN: EPA administrator Carol Browner announcing new federal rules to dramatically cut air pollution by requiring heavy-duty trucks and buses to significantly reduce the emissions over a 10-year period. She said this will cause a "greatly improved air quality for all Americans."

The goal here is to cut smog and other chemicals from the air which have been linked to diseases such as cancer and asthma, and she gave some numbers. The EPA says that each year, smog and soot account for 15,000 deaths, 1 million respiratory problems, 400,000 asthma attacks, and thousands of cases of aggravated asthma, especially in children.

The EPA can pass these rules by just holding hearing with American civilians. It does not need Congressional approval.

And, again, the trucking industry, petroleum industry has 10 years to comply. Critics say that the EPA is overstepping their -- the rules here and we'll continue to follow along as we get reaction on this announcement by the EPA today.

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