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Remarks by Howard H. Baker, Jr.
Ambassador to Japan


The University of Tennessee, Knoxville
March 9, 2005

I am enormously pleased to be able to participate in and kick off this retrospective on the Clean Air Act. At least for me and for Bill Ruckelshaus, had he been able to attend, and Leon Billings, it is a retrospective. For many of you here it may be an ongoing responsibility for which we can provide a perspective.

Retrospectives are interesting for people of my generation. There are many ways to sum up our careers. Many Members of Congress do that with the myriad pictures and awards they display on the walls of their offices. Others summarize their career by pointing to their elective and appointive achievements. Needless to say, mine has been bountiful thanks to my parents, the people of Tennessee, President Ronald Reagan and President George W. Bush.

But at the end of the day, those personal achievements and rewards will be of most importance to my descendants and, hopefully, to my biographers. They will be measures of my success, but they won't reflect the achievement of which I am most proud. But so long as the Clean Air Act, its principles and its goals survive, I will have a lasting legacy.

I have always been struck by the fact that Thomas Jefferson insisted that his tombstone reflect only that he had founded the University of Virginia -- not that he was Ambassador to France -- or Secretary of State -- or Vice President or even President of the United States -- not that he had drafted the Declaration of Independence, but that he had founded an institution of higher learning.

I cannot compare my own career to Jefferson's, nor would I be so bold to say that I alone wrote the Clean Air Act. But I am willing to say and let my legacy rest on the fact that I was one of two or three American citizens who happened to be United States Senators who came together at a particular moment in history and developed the concept which in many respects can be said to have changed the world in which we live.

In 1969 Senator Ed Muskie and I came together with a shared vision. We each provided critical elements to that vision and we succeeded in producing a law which more than well demonstrated that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Walk with me, if you would, through some of the critical provisions of that law -- provisions still working today, most of which were unique and unprecedented in 1970.

Before we start down this path, let me remind each of you that the Clean Air Act of 1970 passed the United States Senate unanimously. Ultimately, the conference report on the Clean Air Act passed the United States Senate unanimously -- unanimous, but yet unique and unprecedented.

First and foremost, we declared a direct and overarching federal interest in protecting the health of all Americans from air pollution.

Second, we incorporated in law the concept of technology forcing.

Third, we established deadlines for government action.

Fourth, we made many of those government actions mandatory rather than permissive.

Fifth, we empowered the public, individual American citizens, with the authority to use the federal courts to achieve the objectives we set forth should the bureaucracy or the politicians fail to do so.

To my knowledge, none of these concepts had ever been legislated before. And all were contained in a 38-page -- I want to underscore 38-page -- public law called the Clean Air Act of 1970.

It is important to me that each of you understand not only the political and legislative dynamics of the Clean Air Act but the personal dynamics which made it possible and which endured long after its enactment and my departure from the United States Senate.

Senator Ed Muskie was my dear friend. He was a man whose intellect, initiative and innovation capabilities were awesome. He was a partisan Democrat who never let partisanship interfere with his desire to create good public policy. In every aspect of his legislative career, which I witnessed personally on the environment and in the budget process and later in foreign policy, Ed Muskie was willing to work as long as it took with whomever was necessary -- irrespective of party or point of view -- to achieve a constructive public policy result. He believed that we could compromise without giving away principles. He knew that compromise -- he called it comity -- was the essence of a workable legislative process. And he knew that each of us had our ideas and our ideals, our interests and our constituencies that, like his own, had to be accommodated.

I also need to place all of this in the perspective of the times in which we crafted this landmark law. First, while television was an important medium, it was at that time on an equal if not lesser footing than the printed word.

Second, political campaigns simply didn't cost that much. So, Members spent a lot less time raising money and I'm sure felt a lot less obligated to their sources of campaign funds.

Third, our constituencies were considerably less well organized to hold us accountable on specific issues. Thus, it was easier to be a leader and less important to be a follower.

Fourth, Members of Congress, the House and the Senate, actually wrote legislation. Only on occasion did I have to remind Leon Billings and his colleagues that they were staff and we were Members.

Fifth, Committee members actually enjoyed working on a tough domestic issue like clean air because they were besieged with constituent activists in opposition to the Vietnam War, which was at its height during that era with the Senate Office Building, in effect, being occupied by demonstrators.

And, finally, when we wrote the Clean Air Act and its sister, the Clean Water Act, our deliberations took place "in camera." Members had frank, open discussions. Prejudices and priorities, interests and constituencies were laid on the table, often bluntly, frequently with humor. And in our Committee we always made decisions by consensus.

There was no better measure of the dynamics of the Committee than when Jim Buckley (elected as a Conservative from New York) came to the Committee in 1971. He had initially received assignment to what is now the Senate Energy Committee and he had been distressed by the fact that that Committee functioned as the Chairman's fiefdom, with most votes being decided by the proxies Scoop Jackson had in his pocket. When he came to the Environment and Public Works Committee, he was struck by the fact that not only did his views get heard, they also mattered. He quickly learned that he could make a difference. And even though he had deep reservations about expanding the role of the Federal Government in the area of clean air and clean water, it was he who pointed out that conservative and conservation have the same Latin root. Buckley was so well incorporated into the dynamics of the Committee that in 1972 he served as a co-floor manager of the Clean Water Act, even up against the veto of the Republican President.

There were three fundamental ideas which evolved from our Clean Air Act deliberations. Ed Muskie believed that there needed to be a basis on which to require major investment in air pollution control. Moreover, he believed there needed to be a firm basis for asserting a federal interest in air pollution control.

He had, in earlier and more rudimentary air quality legislation, required the development of something called air quality criteria, which were to be the scientific basis for air quality standards. He insisted that air quality standards be based on science, not on economics and not on politics. He wanted the public to first understand the science of air pollution. We as elected officials would deal with the economic issues.

Our colleague from Missouri, Senator Tom Eagleton, who had just been through a bruising effort to write occupational safety and health legislation, eloquently and assertively pointed out that the Congress and the Executive made bold promises to the public -- the war on this, the war on that -- but nothing was ever accomplished in a timely way. He believed that the way to resolve the issue of public confidence was to establish statutory deadlines for administrative and other actions.

I was concerned that we might be asking more than our collective capacity to deliver. While I agreed with Ed Muskie that standards should be based on science and I agreed with Tom Eagleton that there ought to be deadlines for achievement of those standards, I simply didn't know whether we had the technical capability to accomplish our bold, and some would say excessive, objectives.

So, as a part of our accommodation, we agreed that there would be science-based air quality standards. There would be deadlines. And there would be opportunities to extend those deadlines where the technology didn't exist. We further agreed that in order to force technology, the authority to extend those deadlines should be limited; that the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency would be authorized to make certain limited extensions, but at some point the polluters -- the manufacturers of automobiles, the owners of power plants, etc. -- would have to come back to the Congress to get more time.

We believed that the body politic had elected us to make the difficult decisions. We did not believe that we were elected to delegate our responsibilities to administrative agencies. We respected the technical, scientific and regulatory skills that were available to the Federal Government and to the states. But at the end of the day judgments with respect to the availability of technology -- the costs of pollution control -- and the ability to meet standards by specific deadlines were political, not bureaucratic judgments. The public had the right to demand that their elected officials balance the ability to achieve the pollution reductions required against the risks to public health if those reductions were not achieved.

The 1970 Clean Air Act cannot be reprised without a look at the 1977 amendments. By 1977, Committee business was out of the closet and in the bright light of public exposure (which meant the lobbyists were in the room with legislators). So we had to review the success of our 1970 product under a microscope.

By 1977 politics had changed, too. Campaign costs had escalated. Corporate political action committees existed. And, unlike 1970, when there were but a small number of advocacy groups for and against clean air, we had created a lobbyist boom.

Every day in 1975 and 1976 when we considered and then conferred with the House on clean air amendments, our venues were packed with lobbyists and long lines were out doors. While our committee continued to have the kind of serious debate that dominated our earlier deliberations, the existence of an audience changed the tenor, if not the substance.

It was more difficult to have the kind of casual and colloquial conversation which we had in the back room. It was more difficult for Members to find accommodation for competing views. There was more suspicion and there was a great deal more participation from the affected communities than had previously been the case.

It became more difficult for Members to define and agree upon objectives and then work out the best means to achieve those objectives.

Simultaneous with this opening of the Committee business process was the explosion in staff. When we wrote the 1970 Clean Air Act, I was supported by Committee counsel (Tom Jorling and Bailey Guard) and by my personal staff legislative assistants, Jim Jordan and Jim Range. The only staff who participated in the Committee discussions were the Minority and Majority Counsels and one member of the Majority and Minority Professional Staff.

I am told that it was much more difficult for lobbyists to influence that process because the staff was too busy responding to Members' interests to be constantly accessible to the representatives of the interests.

But even faced with all that change -- open meetings, increased staff, existence of PACs, myriad lobbyists -- we managed to maintain the comity which we respected.

We named the amendments to the Clean Air and the Clean Water Acts of 1977 mid-course corrections. We all knew at the time we wrote the basic laws that we would make mistakes; that deadlines would be too short; that technology would not keep pace; that many polluters would be so shocked by the magnitude of the burden imposed that they would first try to frustrate the law before they decided to comply with it.

Time would be wasted while challenges were exhausted. But in mid-decade I think we all believed that we wanted to improve on our 1970 Clean Air product, not to abandon it and not to weaken it.

As one of the principal advocates of technology-based standards, it was incumbent on me to take the lead on modifying the statutory auto emission standards. I told Ed Muskie that we needed to relax the Nox standard. He promised me that it would be done, but only asked that I withhold my amendment until the timing was just right.

I talked to him at the time of the subcommittee markup in 1977. He said, "not yet." We spoke again when the full committee considered the bill and once again he said, "not yet." We got to the Senate floor and I became concerned that my opportunity would be frustrated. But once again he promised I would have my chance and that I would prevail.

We had a new Senator from Michigan that year who had replaced Senator Philip Hart, a close friend and ally of Ed Muskie's. Unlike Senator Hart, the new Senator did not take his lead on clean air from Muskie. His interests were those of the auto manufacturers and auto unions.

So when we got to the floor Senator Riegle quickly stepped forward to offer an amendment to significantly relax the auto emission standards. Senator Muskie, Senator Randolph, Senator Cooper and I met off the Senate floor. Senator Muskie said, "Howard, it's time for you to offer your amendment." And Senator Randolph quickly said, "And I want to be the cosponsor."

Years later the Senator from Michigan (Don Riegle) would recall the Baker-Randolph substitute and the fact that his proposal was soundly rejected while ours was overwhelmingly adopted. He would note that this first adventure into Senate politics was a real lesson that he would remember for a long time.

I got my amendment; Ed Muskie accepted and supported my alternative; a weaker option was rejected; and the basic concept we articulated in 1970 had withstood its greatest challenge.

For those of you who were not around at the time, I should add as a footnote that we went to conference with the House conference committee which was dominated by auto industry advocates and others whose objective was to weaken the Clean Air Act. But because the Senate would not yield any further than it had on my amendment, the auto industry advocates had to accept that outcome or face plant closure.

Those standards thought to be impossible to achieve at the time have since twice been made more stringent, a result, I believe, of the fundamental technology-forcing requirements of the Clean Air Act.

Like many of you here, I have visited many parts of the world which has not enjoyed the full benefits of the environmental revolution the initiation of which I am proud to have been a part.

It is difficult to breathe the air in Beijing and other cities in China and many of the cities in Asia and in Eastern Europe, where pollution control has not been a primary national policy.

We have seen our economy multiply; our automobile population multiply; our population multiply; the number of vehicle miles we travel multiply. And yet in every instance our air is still getting cleaner. We haven't achieved Ed Muskie's public health standards yet. But we have in place both a body of law and a national philosophy which should make that possible in our lifetime.

We triggered a global change. As a result of our investment and the collective effort of a few committed men who gathered in a small committee meeting room, we charted a change in the course of history.

Special interests today can weaken the law. They can change the law. But in the final analysis they won't roll back the continued commitment worldwide to emission reductions which we initiated 35 years ago. That's my legacy. I would be proud to have "He wrote the Clean Air Act" on my tombstone.

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The Next Generation - Picture Scrapbook - Cartoons
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