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On EPA's Birthday, the US Chamber Should Put Away the Games

Pete Altman

Posted December 2, 2010 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment, U.S. Law and Policy

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Are you thankful for clean air and water? Why not let the folks who work every day to protect public health from polluion know you appreciate their efforts by using Green for All's great "ThankYouEPA" website which sums up the achievements of our nation's environmental protector. The Environmental Protection Agency has made terrific improvements in our health and quality of life by reducing pollution in the 40 years since it was first created (40 years ago today, for that matter.)

It has sharply reduced pollution from automobiles, industrial smokestacks, utility plants and major sources of toxic chemicals and particulate matter since its creation in 1970.

The EPA has saved tens of thousands of lives each year by reducing harmful pollutants that cause or contribute to asthma, emphysema, heart disease and other potentially lethal respiratory ailments.

In economic terms, the EPA has saved tens of trillions of dollars by keeping Americans out of hospitals and in schools and on the job. And it has helped create new industries and green jobs that annually generate billions of dollars in revenue.

The head of the EPA, Lisa Jackson, outlines the EPA's contributions to our health and economy in the Wall Street Journal today.

Unfortunately, despite the clear track-record, there are some curmudgeons who just don't think protecting public health is important. For example, the US Chamber of Commerce, which has launched a campaign to demonize the EPA and oppose the next generation of safeguards it is putting in place to protect our health. This isn't new for the Chamber. It has previously opposed efforts to reduce toxic mercury pollution and chemicals in kids' toys.

Now, among other common-sense proposals to protect the health of Americans, the Chamber is opposing tighter standards to reduce smog or ground-level ozone, a widespread pollution problem responsible for a range of health effects to which children are especially vulnerable.

Smog pollution contributes to thousands of premature mortalities every year and is a known cause and trigger for respiratory problems like asthma, a disease that is spreading most rapidly in children younger than 17 years old, who also account for the highest overall rates of asthma among the population at large.  The U.S. EPA is working to tighten standards for this kind of pollution in order to prevent as many as 12,000 deaths per year and thousands of other ill-health effects, but the U.S. Chamber is trying to block these crucial health protections. 

In other words, the US Chamber is actively opposing efforts to reduce the pollution that makes thousands of people sick and dead, every single year.

And just how is the Chamber making its case against reducing pollution?

Why, it has created a Web-based game – This Way to Jobs – which is patterned on Candyland, the well-known children’s board game. And in doing so, the Chamber completely ignores the health benefits of the EPA ozone rule and other needed reforms:

 “The Executive Branch agencies and offices tasked with environmental issues—the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the Department of the Interior (DOI) and others—are undertaking a wide range of new rules and regulations that either tighten existing environmental standards or impose entirely new environmental obligations on the business community. Often, these agencies give little or no consideration to cost on businesses or jobs that might be lost. American businesses are increasingly feeling suffocated by the volume, scope and cost of all of these new regulations.”

The outrageous part here is that the Chamber’s hysteria-tinged jobs claims are entirely suspect.  As U.S. ChamberWatch points out

“The U.S. Chamber’s latest marketing ploy—continuing the lie that our economy is doomed because of regulation challenges faced by would-be business owners—would be funny if their lies weren’t so deadly serious. Our message to the Chamber: Stop playing games with American jobs. America’s economy went into a ditch after Wall Street CEOs, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, gambled away our pensions, savings and investments, sending millions of us into bankruptcy and foreclosure. Far from making amends for their destructive actions, the Chamber since then has been on a relentless path to kill American jobs. Whether it’s supporting an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, which 98 percent of small business owners won’t benefit from, looking to undo the relief brought to small business through health care and Wall Street reform, or quite literally advocating to send American jobs overseas, the U.S. Chamber is hurting, not helping our economy. Now they want to make light of the matter and wage false attacks on those who stand up for workers. Enough with the games; the Chamber needs to start lobbying for policies that help, not hurt American small business.”

And its Candyland rip-off is not the only sign that the U.S. Chamber thinks that the EPA’s job of protecting the health of Americans is some kind of a joke. 

Consider this bizarre PowerPoint presentation delivered in Ohio this summer by U.S. Chamber Senior Vice President Bill Kovacs.   This forecast of impending doom due to a “Regulatory Cascade,” is so subtle that “enviros” are represented by … wait for it! … a man hugging a tree.   Another of Kovacs’ slides underscores the “peril” of the supposed regulatory tsunami by including the famous “O” mouth shot of Kevin McCallister in the first “Home Alone” movie

This PowerPoint presentation is so bad that we at first assumed it was a parody.  But it’s the real deal, in which Kovacs does everything except rebrand the EPA as the “Evil Protection Administration.”   This is a perfect illustration of why Lord Acton’s famous maxim -- “all power tends to corrupt; and absolute power corrupts absolutely” -- is now paraphrased as follows:   “Power corrupts but PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.”  

Kovacs, as you may recall, is the rocket scientist who thought in 2009 that it would be a good idea for the U.S. to stage a “Scopes Monkey trial” in the hopes of undermining the consensus on climate science.  Nowadays, Kovacs is the Chamber’s point person in fighting the EPA on the MACT boiler and another anti-pollution rules.

We urge the Chamber to leave the jokes to the professional comedians and to start engaging in a serious-minded public discourse about the EPA’s recommended rules to protect the health of Americans. Laughing at a problem that leaves thousands gasping for breath (and worse) just isn’t funny.

But keep in mind that this debate doesn’t begin and end with the ozone rule. 

Let’s look at another example: If one federal pollution clean-up by the federal government could result in $15-$41 billion in net public health benefits – including 2,000-5,100 fewer premature deaths, 1,400 fewer people suffering from cases of chronic bronchitis and 35,000 cases of aggravated bronchitis every single year – wouldn’t the be something the EPA should do now?  That’s what the EPA estimates would be the results of its pending rules to impose meaningful standards on hazard air pollutants now being emitted across American by industrial, commercial and institutional boilers and process heaters. 

But that’s not all. What else is on the Chamber’s hit list? Proposed safeguards concerning:

  • Oil spill prevention
  • Toxic air pollution from power plants and other sources
  • Toxic coal ash
  • Lead
  • Radon

These are pretty important issues to address. I don't know anyone who wants more oil spills, or to have to breathe in or be exposed to more toxic air pollution and ash, or lead and radon. In fact, most Americans - from both parties - support the work of the EPA.

So, U.S. Chamber: what the EPA does is a matter of life and death. Put the jokes and games away and let the EPA keep doing its job.

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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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