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Pete Altman’s Blog

Don't Block the EPA

Pete Altman

Posted December 16, 2010 in Curbing Pollution, Environmental Justice, Health and the Environment, Solving Global Warming

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The Environmental Protection Agency has built a record as one of the most effective agencies we have. Over the last forty years, the experts and scientists at the EPA have helped to prevent hundreds of thousands of pollution-related deaths and millions of illnesses.

But some members of Congress are still bent on getting in the EPA’s way. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is attempting to force a vote on his proposal to block the EPA from reducing life-threatening carbon pollution for the next four years.

By attempting to hinder the EPA from doing its job, Senator Rockefeller is setting himself against a wide array of health, faith, underserved community, business and other groups, all of which support EPA’s plans to reduce pollution and are asking Congress to stay out of the way.

For example:

Last week, a broad spectrum of 284 national and state medical, public health and other groups representing all 50 states, including the American Lung Association, American Public Health Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American College of Preventive Medicine, urged Congress to “defend the Clean Air Act and to reject any measure that would block or delay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from doing its job to protect all Americans from life-threatening air pollution.”

The groups made very clear what’s at stake, stating “Over the coming years the EPA will be fulfilling its duty to reduce the smog and soot pollution, air toxics, and global warming pollution that are the cause of these public health threats.  We urge you to fully support the EPA in fulfilling this responsibility.”

Latino organizations: earlier this fall, 19 national Latino groups made a similar request, noting that “"Low-income and minority communities often have less access to health care and less ability to incur the costs of heat-related health threats…Any legislation that blocks the Clean Air Act will severely jeopardize the public health and impact productivity in our communities." The groups’ closing message: “We urge you to protect our communities by opposing any legislation that would block or delay the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from enforcing the Clean Air Act.

The NAACP has weighed in as well, noting that “Underserved communities and people who are old, young, or already sick are at greatest risk from the growing threat of climate change. More and more Americans will be living in vulnerable locations as population continues to grow rapidly in cities, along the coasts, and in the South. People of color will be disproportionately impacted because our populations are concentrated in these areas” and calling on members of Congress to “oppose and work against any and all legislative initiatives which would block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Supreme Court-directed finding.”

Even business groups are urging Congress to let the EPA do its job. Just this week, 14 business groups representing over 60,000 businesses released a letter stating that “The Clean Air Act provides lawmakers with an example of how responsible environmental measures can both ignite new industries and send a market signal to investors and entrepreneurs that innovation and investment in the clean energy sector is good business. We urge you to support EPA’s mission and to reject efforts to block, delay or weaken implementation of the Clean Air Act.”

Health groups: In a letter sent to Congress and the White House in September, 136 national and state health organizations and experts urged “opposition to any efforts to weaken, delay or block the EPA from protecting the public’s health from [the] risks” of carbon pollution, which were described as “more Americans will be exposed to conditions that can result in illness and death due to respiratory illness, heat- and weather-related stress and disease carried by insects. These health issues are likely to have the greatest impact on our most vulnerable communities, including children, older adults, those with serious health conditions and the most economically disadvantaged.”

So why is Senator Rockefeller still doggedly pursuing this course? When it comes down to it, the only interests are really working to block the EPA and take away the valuable tools that it needs to curb harmful pollution are big coal and oil polluters and their trade associations like the US Chamber of Commerce. We’ve heard their arguments before – the sky will fall if EPA does this (or that, or that, or that.)

Recently I noted that an executive with one big polluter – American Electric Power – admitted that previous claims of sky falling have turned out not to be true. As John McManus, vice president of environmental services at American Electric Power Co, who told E&E News this week (subscription required) that:

"I come from a part of the industry that may have, once or twice in the past, claimed the sky is falling, and it hasn't fallen..."

Despite the admission that polluters have a proven record of getting it wrong where the impacts of protecting our health and environment is concerned, Senator Rockefeller appears committed to his campaign to “Block the EPA.”

Please take a moment to urge your US Senators to oppose Senator Rockefeller's proposal.

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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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