skip to main content

→ Top Stories:
Clean Power plan
Safe Chemicals

Frances Beinecke’s Blog

Don’t Let Lawmakers Undermine the Clean Air Act: It Saves Hundreds of Thousands of Lives

Frances Beinecke

Posted March 11, 2010

, , , , , , , , , , ,
Share | | |

A handful of lawmakers in the Senate and House have been trying to block the EPA from regulating global warming pollution. This is largely a political manuever--an effort to drain away Senate support for passing a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill.

Some say that at least Senator Rockefeller’s bill – unlike Senator Murkowski’s – does not question the science of climate change.  Yet in the end, both bills would paralyze the EPA and weaken the Clean Air Act--a bedrock law that has saved hundreds of thousands of lives over its 40-year history.

You see, the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to regulate air pollutants that endanger human health and the environment. The Supreme Court recently ruled  that the Clean Air Act unambiguously covers all air pollutants, including greenhouse gases.

Last year, the EPA issued an endangerment finding--a conclusion that global warming pollution is hazardous to our health and the environment.

This is precisely what some lawmakers want to overturn. But if Congress gets to pick and choose which pollutants and which science-based findings it wants to enforce, then the Clean Air Act could quickly become the Dirty Air Act, rooted in political science instead medical science.

Imagine if lawmakers had blocked the Clean Air Act rule to phase lead out of gasoline. Industry leaders certainly tried, and the fight over the lead looked a lot like the current battle over global warming pollution.

It too started with an EPA endangerment finding, one that said lead in gasoline was a threat to public health. Oil companies claimed that the science wasn’t strong enough to justify the costs. Typical of industry’s scare campaign was this letter from a Gulf Oil Corporation executive to the EPA in 1972:

“Before the EPA imposes regulations that can have an adverse effect on the nation’s economy and unnecessarily waste our nation’s natural resources, there should be general agreement in the medical and scientific community of the actual need to restrict lead additives from a public health standpoint…Such agreement does not exist at this time.”

That sounds hauntingly familiar. Yet if those voices had prevailed back in the 1970s, and we delayed removing lead from gasoline for another 10 years, 300,000 more children would have had IQs below 70 and tens of thousands of adults would have suffered from heart disease, stroke, and hypertension.

Instead, the EPA moved forward with it lead rule and created the most successful program in its history--one that has been replicated around the world. Here in America, lead emissions from cars dropped by 95 percent by 1999. And while in the late 1970s, 88 percent of American children had blood lead levels surpassing the CDC’s level of concern, by 2000, only 2.2 percent of American children did.

The science on lead proved to be right, and no one doubts lead’s dangers today. But EPA acted, rightly, well before every last issue and denial was resolved.  Despite the organized effort by deniers to confuse the public, the scientific consensus on the causes and severity of climate change is actually far more robust today than was the case for lead in the 1970s.  The EPA was right to act then, and the EPA is right to act now.

The lead program is just one of the more famous of the Clean Air Act’s victories, but there are many others:

  • By making all new diesel engines more than 90 percent cleaner, the EPA will prevent more than 21,000 premature deaths and $160 billion in health costs every year by 2030.
  • By phasing out the most dangerous ozone-depleting chemicals, the EPA will cut the American incidences of non-melanoma skin cancer by 295 million by 2075.
  • By launching the acid rain program, the EPA has dramatically reduced soot and smog by levels that will reduce premature deaths by between 20,000 and 50,000 per year in 2010.

These are remarkable achievements--each one brought to you by the Clean Air Act. But history shows that these live-saving programs could have been thwarted by just the kind of amendments lawmakers are using today to block the EPA’s greenhouse gas rule.

NRDC is fighting these efforts to undermine the Clean Air Act. We believe the EPA must be allowed to carry out its job of regulating global warming pollution.

But we also believe that an EPA rule will only complete half the job of fighting climate change. To fully unleash innovation, offer incentives that drive down the price of clean energy, and create nearly 2 million jobs, Congress needs to pass comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation.

But in the meantime, we can not allow the Clean Air Act to become the Dirty Air Act. Tell your lawmakers not to support any amendments that will hamper the EPA from doing its job--the job of protecting Americans from dangerous pollution.



Share | | |


Dr Norman PageMar 12 2010 12:45 PM

To equate CO2 with lead,mercury etc is total nonsense. Life on this planet cannot live without it.
The one good thing that the IPCC - Al Gore AGW campaign has done is to draw attention to the importance of Climate Science in attempting to evaluate future threats to the basic problem of feeding the estimated 9 billion expected on earth by mid- century. Unfortunately the science was distorted and "results " hyped to promote the political agenda ,career interests and financial interests of various parties with varying motivations. What can reasonable people agree on? I think the following statements represent what we know and how certain we may be about the "facts"
1. The quality of the basic temperature data base is not very good.
2 . In the 20th century temperatures rose from 1900 - 1940. dropped from 1940 - 70 and rose from 1970 to a peak about 2003. There was about 0.8 degrees warming in total.
3. Temperatures have entered a downtrend since then.
4. These general trends are perturbed by El Nino - La Nina and volcanic events
5. CO2 rose steadily during this period but the CO2 trend is not correlative with the temperature trend.
6. Ice core data shows that CO2 follows temperature not vice versa.
7. CO2 is a greenhouse gas.
8. Anthropogenic CO2 has contributed some ,probably small, amount to 20th century warming.
9.Until we know the forcings and feedbacks of the natural system we can't calculate with any accuracy the contribution of anthropogenic CO2 to the temperature.
10.In any event the temperature - CO2 equation is logarithmic so that any future increase in emitted CO2 has progressivley smaller effect.
11. Warm periods with higher CO2 are good for mankind and food production in general.
12. Abundant geologic data and gelogic history show very clearly that the sun is the main climate driver.
13 Our investigation of the Sun - climate system is really only just starting but Milankovich orbital cycles are well documented as are solar activity cycles of various lengths which interact with each other in complex ways.
14. Total Solar Irradiance is only one measure if solar activity . The Svensmark solar magnetism - GCR - cloud cover hypothesis is supported by a lot of evidence and is probably true.
15.Based on current solar activity and the current negative phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscilation we are more likely than not to have 20 - 30 years of cooling with maybe a Dalton or even a Maunder minimum. Solar magnetic field strength has dropped precipitously over the last 5 years .
16. One or two degrees of cooling might well produce occasional serious crop failures in the worlds chief growing areas. This would be much more dangerous to the population than a warmer world with more CO2.
17. Government efforts would be better directed towards preparing for cooling rather than warming. eg building grain and cattlefeed stockpiles.
18. The IPCC Summary for Policy makers should be abandoned as a guide to future climate trends because our knowledge is insufficient to predict temperatures 100 years out with any accuracy at all.. This is the scientific conclusion of the IPCC itself . The WG1 ( science) section on climate forcings and climate sensitvity concludes (8.6.4)

"Moreover it is not yet clear which tests are critical for constraining the future projections,consequently a set of model metrics that might be used to narrow the range of plausible climate change feedbacks and climate sensitivity has yet to be developed"

What could be clearer. The IPCC says that we dont even know what metrics to put into the models to test their reliability.- ie we don't know what future temperatures will be and we can't calculate the climate sensitivity to CO2 with any certainty.This also begs a further question of what mere assumptions went into the "plausible" models to be tested anyway.Nobody ever seems to read or quote the AR4 - WG1 report- certainly not the compiler of the Summary or the AGW faithful.
19. The chief threat to the environment and humanity is the expected population increase.
20. The best way to control that is to increase as quickly as possible living standards throughout the world and at the same time raise the status and education of women.This latter will also require changing cultural behaviour in large groups of populations.
21. The world needs to get energy to the developing world as cheaply and as quickly as possible.Fossil fuels are the cheapest energy source for the forseeable future and should be extracted and used in as environmentally friendly way as possible while remembering that CO2 is an effecint fertiliser and not a pollutant and does not need to be controlled.

John LiffeeMar 12 2010 02:24 PM

Doc Page:

To equate CO2 with lead,mercury etc is total nonsense. Life on this planet cannot live without it.

Hmm ... life on this planet can't exist without nitrogen, either. And yet excess nitrogen from agricultural runoff has created "dead zones" at the mouths of many of the world's great rivers. Where the Mississippi meets the Gulf of Mexico, there's now a marine desert the size of New Jersey.

I'd say it'd be "total nonsense" not to call that excess nitrogen what it is — pollution. What's happening in the atmosphere is roughly parallel to what's happening in such estuaries; human activity has disturbed the precise and delicate conditions that life exists within, to profound effect. If you refuse to see this, it's no wonder you can assert that your list of statements represents "what we know" about the facts.

Dr Norman PageMar 12 2010 02:59 PM

John Liffee
Which of my numbered points would you disagree with - based on what evidence?

John LiffeeMar 12 2010 04:00 PM

Which ones? Well, let's see.... I guess that would be all of them excepting number 7.

Evidence? Every climate-specific assertion you make belongs to the raft of "zombie arguments" embraced by the anti-science crowd — all have been skewered, punctured, beaten silly over and over again but simply refuse to die. If you actually believe this stuff, we simply do not inhabit the same reality and discussion, sadly, is pointless.

Then again, you may be among those who repeat this tripe only because it suits your business interests. (Just to avoid those pesky conflict-of-interest concerns, next time you might want to disclose that you own an oil-exploration business.)

Dr Norman PageMar 12 2010 04:40 PM

John - I'm a retired exploration consultant with a wide knowledge of the earth's geological history.Like many geologists I got into the subject because of a keen enjoyment of the natural environment and time spent in field work in the outdoors. Your response is typical of many AGW true believers- slander the messenger,impute ulterior motives but never ever make a point by showing some acquaintance with or knowledge of the actual data or science.
I would agree with many of the concerns of the NRDC but they and other environmental groups actually hurt their causes and reduce their credibility by barking up this wrong AGW tree.

Comments are closed for this post.


Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

Feeds: Frances Beinecke’s blog

Feeds: Stay Plugged In