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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration Officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Today's guest: Jeff Holmstead

Jeff Holmstead

July 8, 2003

Jeff Holmstead
Good morning, I'm Jeff Holmstead, Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation. To broad national acclaim, the Bush Administration recently proposed regulations that, for the first time, would dramatically cut air pollution from diesel engines used in construction, agriculture and many other nonroad applications.

Currently, Congress is now poised to take up President Bush's Clear Skies legislation that would require a 70 percent reduction in the most harmful air pollution from power plants.

Clear Skies and the nonroad diesel rule, along with federal and state programs already in place, will do something that seemed almost impossible just a few years ago -- bring virtually every part of the country into compliance with federal clean air standards.

I'm now glad to take your questions.

Larry, from Kearney, Nebraska writes:
Your Clear Skies Initiative goes overboard. Industry, which provides jobs, is going to be hurt. You need to allow power plants more time to lower pollution levels. The proposal will hurt industry.

Jeff Holmstead
We have spent an enormous amount of time to make sure that we balance the need for cleaner air with other important considerations, including jobs and energy security. Although a 70 percent reduction will require multi-billion dollar investment, we have designed an approach (based on the highly successful Acid Rain Trading Program) and time table that can be achieved. This allows power plants to plan for their compliance requirements with a reasonable time frame that promotes investment in the newest and most effective technologies. By using a highly efficient market-based program, we can minimize costs and ensure that electricity prices remain affordable for American consumers. This approach is not only economically efficient but environmentally effective and will get greater reductions over the next decade than is possible under current law.

Grant, from Davis writes:
The President's plan is on-the-ball... but wondering about what we'll do about CO2 buildup. Thank you so much.

Jeff Holmstead
Thanks for your words of encouragement for the President's Clear Skies Initiative. This plan will clean the air faster and more cost-effectively than current law. We have recently completed the most comprehensive and sophisticated national air quality study ever conducted. It showed that Clear Skies, along with other actions already adopted, will provide health and environmental improvements over the next decade that are simply not possible under current law.

Among other things, by 2010 it would prevent about 7,900 premature deaths, 13,000 non-fatal heart attacks and 17,000 other visits to the hospital. It would also improve visibility in our national parks, eliminate the problem of chronic acidity in the Adirondacks and reduce problems caused by over-fertilization of sensitive coastal areas.

We do not want to lose these benefits which would start almost immediately after Congressional passage, while we make substantial progress on addressing the much longer-term issues related to climate change and CO2. The President has announced a comprehensive effort to address climate change -- an effort that focuses on new technology and economy-wide actions. We believe these two issues need to be taken up separately. For more information on the President's climate change initiatives, see Global Climate Change Policy Book

Thomas, from Texarkana writes:
Hello Mr. Holmstead I am very worried about the plan to weaken controls on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. 43 states now have warnings against consuming too much fish because of mercury and this plan will undoubtedly make the problem worse. Thanks for your response

Jeff Holmstead
First let me correct a mis-impression. Clear Skies would, for the first time, impose mercury controls on coal-fired power plants. When fully implemented, it would reduce mercury emissions from power plants by about 70 percent and cap them at that level into the future.

Pat, from Gillette Wyoming writes:
Does this country face an increased air pollution risk if Congress fails to enact Clear Skies during this session and the country faces severe winters over the next several years accompanied by either shortages and/or high prices in natural gas?

Jeff Holmstead
We think it is very important for Congress to act this year to adopt Clear Skies. The Administration is very concerned about natural gas prices, because that's what Americans use to heat their homes and power their businesses. The Department of Energy and EPA both believe that passing Clear Skies is the single most important thing that we can do to reduce the pressure on natural gas prices over the next decade while still ensuring that we meet federal air quality requirements. By providing the power industry with regulatory certainty, Clear Skies will ensure that the power sector uses clean coal technologies instead of switching to natural gas.

Jill, from Knoxville, Tennessee writes:
Like many Tennesseans, I love Great Smoky Mountains National Park and have spent many hours hiking over 400 miles of trails there. Last summer alone, there were 42 days where ozone levels exceeded EPA's ozone standard. It is a rare occasion when you can see even nearby ridges because power plant haze frequently blocks views. Since many of our parks are polluted, why has EPA proposed to eliminate safeguards created over 25 years ago to restore these areas in its Clear Skies legislation? I am concerned that Clear Skies will leave parks behind.

Jeff Holmstead
We agree that improving visibility in our national parks is a national priority. I want to assure you that Clear Skies will do more for visibility in the Great Smokies and our other national parks over the next decade than any of the current Clean Air Act programs. I would encourage you to look at our Web site,, to learn more about this important issue.

Dan, from Annapolis writes:
How do you view Senator Carper? As a political opportunist or someone who cares about the environment?

Jeff Holmstead
I must say that I have thoroughly enjoyed my interactions with Senator Carper and have found him to be very thoughtful about environmental policy issues. We are pleased that he also strongly supports a comprehensive market-based approach to control power plant air pollution.

Doshi, from Chicago writes:
Where do we stand in comparison to other countries on our efforts for reducing greenhouse gasesair pollution? Also, does the Whitehouse believe that there really is a greenhouse effect or that the climate change that we are feeling is just a product of the Earth's history in that these events cycle through every so many thousands of years?

Jeff Holmstead
At the practical level, there's a substantial amount of consensus around the world regarding climate change. U.S. measures are on par with and in some important instances go beyond what other countries are doing to advance the science, to develop and deploy new technologies for the long-term, and to slow the growth of greenhouse gas emissions in the near-term. Again, I would encourage everyone to review the following fact sheet on the President's climate change initiatives.

John, from Olympia, WA writes:
I have read that the largest single pollution source in the world is American diesel truck engines. Can you offer a comparison in pollution volume between power plants and other large sources like diesel engines? What is the total percent of US air pollution that the 70 figure represents? What are the pollutants being emitted by power plants, and aren't power plants already one of the cleanest power sources in terms of volume of pollutants generated per ton of fuel burned?

Jeff Holmstead
It is sometimes misleading to compare total emissions because of such things as exposure patterns and environmental consequences. However, I can say that power plants are the single largest source of air pollution in the country and that diesel engines are second. When you take the President's proposed diesel regulations coupled with passage of Clear Skies, we will come very close to solving the most serious air pollution problems in nearly every part of the country. This is something we have not been able to achieve in the last 30 years.

gray, from 28352 writes:
why are you a assistant.

Jeff Holmstead
Because the President gets to pick, and I'm delighted to serve in my position. :)

Kyle, from Portage Pennsylvania writes:
I am a recently certified HVAC tecnician. Will there be any changes in EPA regulations on HVAC certification. If so, where do I go, and what changes will be made?

Jeff Holmstead
I am not personally aware of any such changes, but please visit, and go to the page for the Office of Atmospheric Programs to post your question and we will get back to you with a response.

Brian, from Boston writes:
How do you think you can get away with calling something Clear Skies when it's really a ploy to roll back 30 years of Clean Air laws?

Jeff Holmstead
I am always disappointed when people make charges like this without understanding the facts. This Administration is committed to implementing the most stringent air quality standards in U.S. history. Clear Skies and our diesel programs are the two most important steps that we can take to meet these standards and provide cleaner, healthier air for all Americans. Compared to the existing Clean Air Act, Clear Skies will reduce millions more tons of the most harmful pollutants over the next decade.

Frank, from Washington, D.C. writes:
Who do you think the next EPA Administrator will be?

Jeff Holmstead
In the words of the esteemed Ari Fleischer, "When the President has something to announce, he'll make that announcement." Of course, we are looking forward to that announcement, too.

Jeff Holmstead
Shortly I will be testifying before the House Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee's first Hearing on President Bush's Clear Skies Legislation so that will have to be the last question. Thanks for this opportunity to discuss and answer your questions. You can look up Clear Skies benefits specific to where you live by going to

Thank you.

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