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William J. Clinton: Press Briefing by E.P.A. Administrator Carol Browner
William
William J. Clinton
Press Briefing by E.P.A. Administrator Carol Browner
December 21, 1999
The White House: Office of the Press Secretary
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The Briefing Room

1:25 P.M EST

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Just quickly, let me give you a review of what the President announced. He made a series of announcements about cleaner cars and cleaner fuels, which means cleaner air for the American people. He is the first President to ever actually set auto emissions standards; previously, Congress has done all of the work. The EPA in prior administrations were not able to conclude their work until Congress would step in.

With respect to tailpipe emissions, automotive emissions, the President announced tougher standards for cars, the significant reduction for car emissions, and for the first time ever, SUVs, sport utility vehicles, will be brought into the same pollution control program as automobiles.

I would also note that today's announcement includes the very, very large SUVs - those that weigh more than 8,500 pounds which have just come into the market in the last year or so. So it picks up all passenger vehicles, mini vans, trucks, sport utility vehicles, brings it into one program with the cars, then lowers the standards to a .7 average.

The second thing that the President announced are cleaner fuels. Essential to the good operation of the catalytic converter, essential to the emissions, to lowering emissions from cars, are fuels with much less sulfur in them, and so we are announcing a 90 percent reduction in sulfur content in fuels.

Under the Clean Air Act, the first year that we can require these changes, these pollution reductions, is model year 2004, and in fact, we take full advantage of what the law allows us, requiring that Detroit and the other manufacturers start converting their fleets in model year 2004.

We also allow an early credit for electric vehicles and other ultra-clean vehicles; if they will bring them into the market next year they can receive some early credits. This is a way to stimulate new technologies to help introduce consumers to new technologies.

I think it's important to note that this is the first time we've ever taken a systems approach. Historically, Congress would do the work of tailpipe emissions, and then EPA would come along and do fuels. We're doing them together, because what comes out of your tailpipe is a function of the standards for the car and the gasoline you put in. So for the first time ever, we do them together.

The standards are fuel-neutral. It doesn't matter if you put gas in or you put diesel in. If you are a passenger vehicle, an SUV, a minivan, a car, you have to meet the standards regardless of the fuel you use. The President also announced a commitment to cleaner diesel fuels, a rule-making which EPA is initiating and will complete in the next year.

With that, I am happy to answer any questions.

Q: The sport utility vehicles, for instance, what do they have to do to make them less polluting? What kinds of changes?

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Catalytic converter changes, essentially. It's a new generation of a catalytic converter. Maybe there's an easier way to say this - the consumer won't notice any difference. What they get is a cleaner car when they go to buy a new sport utility, a new minivan. It will be cleaner, it will be significantly cleaner. In the case of the largest SUVs, compared to today, it's almost - what is it - 99 percent, 95 percent cleaner. In the case of cars, it's about 77 percent cleaner than today.

Q: So no change in size, weight --

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: No. You won't notice any difference, no. No change in any of that. It's up underneath the vehicle. There's a catalytic converter. They can make them better; in fact, we've built some of them in the EPA labs. We've put them on these vehicles, we've gone out and driven them.

I should just mention quickly, the automobile manufacturers have to certify that the standards will be met to 120,000 miles. Historically EPA has required it to 100,000 miles. We are increasing the certifications to 120,000 miles because we like to drive our cars more and more, and we need to make sure that as we drive them more and more, we still get cleaner air.

Q: Let me ask you two questions. You said, first of all, the consumer won't notice any difference. But in fact, the cars and light trucks will be more expensive, and the gasoline will be more expensive, right?

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: First of all, let's talk about the cost. We estimate for cars about $100 for the new catalytic converters; for an SUV, approximately $200, $250. You're talking about a vehicle that costs something on the order of $35,000 or $40,000. When you think about what this does for clean air; when you think about the public health benefits, this is an incredibly cost-effective way to getting cleaner air.

In terms of fuels, we estimate about 2 cents a gallon. The industry has a higher estimate - I will tell you something. For the last 25 years, when EPA has estimated cost of pollution reductions, and industry has estimated, we've both tended to be wrong. It actually ends up being cheaper. Technology does more than what people expect, good old American ingenuity rises to the occasion and we find cheaper solutions.

The cost benefit for this rule, when we look at the total cost to industry to make cleaner cars, to make cleaner fuels, then we look at the total benefits to society - asthma attacks avoided, premature deaths avoided, workday loss avoided - the total cost to the rule, about $5 billion; the total benefits, over $25 billion. This is an incredibly cost-effective way to get cleaner air for the American people. We are talking about three different air pollutants, NOx, which causes summertime smog; volatile organic compounds - VOCs - and particles. All of them have very real measurable health consequences. We are talking about, NOx, the single largest reduction ever in the history of the United States.

Q: Some of the smaller oil refineries complain that this will place a real financial burden on them. Is there any kind of -

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: We actually worked with a number of organizations to look at the small refinery issues. Specifically, we worked with a group of western governors, led by Governor Leavitt, and we do include a provision for small refineries who may need an additional year or two, recognizing, for example, that the engineering skills may be something they have to acquire - capital investments. But we really limit it to those that can demonstrate that they have a particular challenge, again because getting the cleaner fuels in 2004, as we get the cleaner catalytic converters is absolutely essential.

Q: Can I follow up on that? It is sort of along those lines, and maybe it's an Energy Department question, but does this tend then to favor lower sulfur oil and those -

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Not necessarily. As I understand it, the way sulfur works is you can blend different sulfur contents, and so they can clean it - if they get one batch that's higher than another, they can clean it accordingly, and then blend it to get to the requirements that we're announcing, which is 30 parts per million. The requirement today is 300 parts per million, so this is a significant reduction.

There's one other part of the program I should just mention to you, because this is incredibly important. It distinguishes our program, for example, from the California program. It makes our program deliver cleaner air faster. We do require that, beginning in 2004, 25 percent of the vehicles have to hit the new, toughest standard, the .07 standard, and then they bring in the fleet over a series of years. However, we also require, unlike California, in the first year in 2004, that all other vehicles not in that 25 percent going to the new toughest standard take an interim reduction. So for example, California doesn't really affect SUVs until 2008. Under the President's announcement, we pick up all vehicles, because not only those meeting the toughest standard will have to be in the program, but all other vehicles will take a significant interim reduction. And the reason we did that is because it is so important to deliver to cities and communities and states cleaner air as fast as possible.

Q: The President said this wouldn't limit in any way consumers? choice of vehicles. Are you saying that it will have no impact at all on consumers selecting the very heaviest kinds of SUVs?

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Buy whatever you want.

Q: And if not, why not?

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Because it's not an issue of the weight. It's an issue of the catalytic converter technology and the fuels that we announced today. And what we did do - again, this distinguishes our program from California - is, as the car manufacturers have looked to heavier passenger vehicles, beyond what has traditionally been the size of a passenger vehicle, which - until about a year ago, the biggest SUVs were about 8,500 pounds. Now they've gone up almost to 10,000. We've included those in these programs.

So for the person buying a passenger vehicle, all of the choices remain. They are cleaner; that's the good news.

Q: By "if not, why not" I mean, why isn't EPA doing something to discourage people from buying these 10-mile-a-gallon -

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: This is not a fuel efficiency standard; those are separate standards. This is a tailpipe emissions standard. This is a different program. This goes to issues like smog. It goes to the public health requirements, in terms of clean air. That's a different issue; that is not what this is about. We don't actually run that program. Department of Transportation does.

Q: Can I follow up on his? The auto makers are arguing for the larger SUVs, they were looking for 15 parts per million, perhaps as low as 5 parts per million -

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Well, no. What they were looking for was, they wanted a higher cap. We did not give them the higher cap. We believe we can meet it under the tough proposals that we finalized.

Q: -- also, for two additional years -

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: We did not.

Q: You can do it anyway?

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: We think they can do it anyway. And you know what? People have a right to cleaner air as quickly as possible. We are taking full advantage of the law. The automobile companies did want us to raise the upper limits; we did not raise the upper limits. They did want us to give them more time, we did not give them more time.

Q: You make this sound like it's so easy and so painless. If it's that easy and that painless, why haven't we done this before?

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: The law didn't allow us to do it until model year 2004. I would be thrilled to have done it earlier, because the benefits in terms of public health are so significant. Unfortunately, when Congress rewrote the Clean Air Act in 1990, they told EPA that they wouldn't be allowed to do this until model year 2004. So we're taking full advantage of the opportunity given us in the law.

Q: The EPA can set the standards, but Congress can actually vote later to change those standards if they like, and -

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: They can always do that.

Q: Do you feel that there's going to be trouble with Congress in the coming year over this?

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: I don't think so. You know why? The public wants clean air. They're absolutely clear about their desire for clean air. You know, there's a real problem in this country today, and that is the growing number of children who suffer from asthma, increasing evidence that it is related and is certainly the severity of their tax is related to smog and other air pollution, the premature deaths associated with air pollution.

The American people are very, very clear. They don't think their air is too clean. They want it to be cleaner. This is an incredibly cost-effective way to bring the American people huge air quality benefits. We are talking about 50 million tons of NOx - of smog-forming NOx' out of the air our children breathe. Nothing like this has ever been done before in the Clean Air Act.

Q: Is the President's executive authority spelled out --

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Excuse me, let me get some people, because they're going to cut me off at some point. And then I'll come back around.

Q: -- letter-writing campaigns. Did you get more comment on this than anything else you've done during your administration?

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Oh - how could I forget? It may be. It's probably close to when we set the new standards, the air standards that we set two years ago. It's probably close to that.

Q: And also, looking at this compared with what you proposed in May, it looks as though you got tougher on the auto industry - by bringing in the largest sport utility vehicles - but it also looks as though you became somewhat less tough on the oil industry in the sense that you're giving the interim standard to the Rocky Mountain and Alaskan refineries. Is that -

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: No, in fact what the oil industry wanted was, they wanted a higher standard. They wanted more time. And they wanted certain parts of the country not to be in the program. And everyone comes into the program. It is a national fuels program when we are done. And we think that is important. And I think it's remarkable that we did have the support of governors, where their cities are currently meeting public health air standards, but they still recognize, as they look out over the horizon, that clean fuels are an important part of how they maintain that air quality. So it is a national program, and that is not what the oil companies generally wanted. They would have liked certain areas to be able to sell the dirtier gasoline, and we rejected that.

Q: Was the President's executive authority spelled out in the Clean Air Act? Or is this something that he's doing that is -

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: We're doing it pursuant to our regulatory authority in the Clean Air Act, to set a standard through regulation.

Q: Are you anticipating any problem with that?

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: We're done. We've signed it. I actually sign it under the law. I signed it this morning. It now goes to Congress for a 60-day holdover, and then obviously companies could decide to take us into court.

Q: You say you expect within a year new regulation on the content of diesel fuel? And why is there the lag?

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Well, because this is a huge undertaking for all of us at the Environmental Protection Agency and across the administration. Let me just step back for a moment - we have actually laid out several months ago a three-part strategy for vehicles and fuels. The first piece was cleaner cars, bringing SUVs into the car program, lowering the standards, cleaner gasoline. That's what we announced today. The second piece is heavy-duty diesel engines for model years 2004 through 2007. And then the final piece will be heavy-duty diesel engines post-2007 and cleaner diesel fuels. And it's simply - really, we're doing them in record time. We did this one in almost less than a year.

And in part we've been able to do that because of the process we used. We brought all of the companies - and I personally have met with many vice presidents, CEOs, to talk about what they might be able to do, to learn from them what kind of technologies they thought would be available. I met with the catalytic converter industry. We spent a lot of time with environmentalists - a lot of time with states. You know, the states have to write their clean air plans. And what we do for them at the national level are the national programs, like the announcement we made last week on power plants, to clean up power plants; the announcement we make today on cars and fuels. And then if the states are still short, they have to look for the additional reductions within the state. But this is a hugely important part of how they get to cleaner air.

Q: According to the chart you put out, the biggest NOx polluter and the biggest emissions reductions will come in Texas. Why is that the case?

ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: When you look at their mix of pollution, mobile sources - what's on the roads - for them just happens to be higher. I don't know if they - do they have more cars? They probably have more cars and they probably drive them further because of the distances. And so your division or the distribution of pollution is a factor of both how many cars you have, how much you drive your cars, and then what your industrial sources are.

This is great news for states like Texas, with a large number of cars.

Thank you.

END 1:42 P.M.



Citation: William J. Clinton: "Press Briefing by E.P.A. Administrator Carol Browner," December 21, 1999. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=47652.
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