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GOP Leaders Fail to Come Clean About Radical Changes to Clean Air Safeguards

Frances Beinecke

Posted September 22, 2011 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment

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The House of Representatives is poised to vote on a bill that would dismantle core elements of the Clean Air Act. Called the TRAIN Act, the bill would repeal the Environmental Protection Agency’s protections against mercury and soot. Worse still, a proposed amendment would undermine the government’s ability to establish any new standards based on science. 

This bill is one of the most significant votes on air pollution in two decades. In 1990, 89 senators and 410 representatives passed the Clean Air Amendments, which President George H.W. Bush helped develop and signed into law. Now the Tea Party wants to tear down that bipartisan foundation and destroy a system that has improved the health of millions of Americans.

The public deserves to know exactly how radical the House GOP leadership and the Tea Party rank and file really are.

Yet they are trying to downplay the dramatic upheaval their own bill would cause. Just this afternoon, Representative Rob Bishop (R-Utah) claimed that TRAIN would only require a cost-analysis study rather than allow the indefinite delay of critical health safeguards.

The fact is the law would block already issued health safeguards and prevent mercury standards from being adopted imminently. The law would dictate a mandatory minimum delay of between 15 and 19 months and eliminate any statutory deadlines for EPA to reissue those standards in the future.

The fact is the law would dictate a mandatory minimum delay of between 15 and 19 months and eliminate any statutory deadlines for EPA to issue those standards in the future.

Other lawmakers spread similar misinformation and said that talk of health impacts were a distraction. Either they don’t know what’s in their own bill, or they don’t want us to know how truly harmful it would be to our health.

We will come clean for them.

These lawmakers don’t just have a problem with the mercury and soot standards. They oppose the very premise of the Clean Air Act which says polluters must clean up their emissions when medical science proves they are dangerous to human health.

Even if the TRAIN Act gets vetoed—as the White House has wisely promised—people must realize that a fundamental debate is playing out in Congress right now.

Do we want the government to set public health standards based on the latest medical data? Or do we want polluters’ complaints about cost to be placed above all else?

Put a different way, if your lab tests revealed the presence of lung cancer, would you want your doctor to give you a diagnosis of bronchitis because it is cheaper for your insurance company to treat? Or would you prefer to hear the facts and then make appropriate treatment decisions?

If the TRAIN Act passes with an amendment from Representative Bob Latta (R-OH), cost concerns will trump health concerns. His amendment would prevent the EPA from drafting clean air standards based on medical science alone. The agency would have to consider how much a health standard would cost polluters when determining what levels of pollution are safe.

It’s hard to exaggerate how central a change this would be. It would rewrite a fundamental provision of the original Clean Air Act signed by President Nixon. And it would overturn a Supreme Court 9-0 decision confirming the EPA must consider health alone when setting standards for widespread pollutants.

Yet Representative Latta’s amendment that would sweep away forty years of health-based decision-making has never been the subject of hearings and is slated to get just 10 minutes of debate.

This isn’t just a bureaucratic matter. The Clean Air Act could be gutted and people’s lives are at stake if TRAIN passes. It would allow the indefinite delay of standards to reduce mercury and soot pollution. The mercury protections alone would prevent as many as 17,000 deaths every year and up to 120,000 asthma attacks in children, according to the EPA.

The smog and soot standards, meanwhile, could save up to 34,000 people every year, according to the EPA. Scientists discovered in recent decades that fine particulates of soot get lodged deep in the lung, making it one of the deadliest air pollutants. Even the Bush administration decided to act on these findings and started tightening smog and soot regulations.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and other lawmakers who support TRAIN, however, would prefer to ignore the new medical data and keep the air as full of soot as it is now. That would be like asking endocrinologists to ignore the benefits of insulin pumps and treat diabetes like we did in the 1980s. We don’t want our doctors to ignore medical advances. Government agencies shouldn’t either.

Americans need to weigh in on the battle raging in Congress. We need to come down on the side of public health and medical science, not on the side of ideology. Click here to let your lawmakers know you do not support the TRAIN Act.

 

 

 

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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 NRDC.org.

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