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Live Blogging Today's Senate Hearing, "The Clean Air Act and Public Health"

Pete Altman

Posted June 15, 2011 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment

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I attended this morning's Clean Air Act and Public Health hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, jotting notes throughout. The complete batch:

12:48 Ok, as I was packing up Senator Whitehouse asked some questions of polluter witness Woollums, who said a couple of interesting things in response: 1) I'm not saying we are saying that [stronger safeguards] should not move forward; 2) we will comply with whatever rules the EPA puts forward.

Well that's good news. Maybe Senator Whitehouse should ask AEP and Southern Company the same questions, and see if he can get them to say they aren't against stronger standards.

Ok, now I'm off...

12:45 Well, that's all the time we've got for today. The hearing is still going on if you want to tune in. Please make sure to add your voice to those urging EPA to protect our kids from dangerous air pollution by reducing toxic emissions.

12:38 Brenner testifies that job security and economic health are the most important factors in family health. But opponents of clean air are attempting to use Brenner's statement to make the case that cleaning up the air will harm more people because it will harm the economy. Yet, there is no evidence that cleaninup the air will cause economic harm; and the record shows that the economy has grown robustly even with public health protections in place. Further, there's no evidence that if GDP were effected, that the resulting health effects would be greater than the health effects we want to prevent by reducing air pollution.

In fact, Brenner overlooks a key point: cleaning the toxic and other pollutants out of our air will require billions in investments by polluters and will put millions to work, as a recent analysis by Ceres showed. Those investments will actually increase the GDP since it means economic activity. So Brenner has a lot of work to do if he seriously wants to make the case that our health will be better if we leave the air dirty.

12:32 Senator Boxer puts the coal-power lobbyist on the spot, asking "If someone throws a dart at a dart board, but misses and hits a kid, are they responsible for the injury to the child?" Apparently, that's a hard question...Mid American Energy's lobbyist Woollums hemmed and hawed before finally answer "Yes."

12:28 Sarah Bucic, a registered nurse testifying on behalf of the American Nurses Association, held up a straw during her testimony, saying that when kids have a severe asthma attack its like trying to breathe through a straw.

12:28

12:26: Dr. Paulson: mercury is a neurotoxin that damages the brain.

12: 24 More from Dr. Munzer: "Industry subject to the EPA's [safeguards] have started a campaign to discredit the science" and some members of Congress are following suit. However, "The EPA science is sound and its methodology is strong."

12:21 Dr. Munzer testifies that he works with patients with asthma and other chronic respiratory diseases and the single most important factor worsening their health but that that he and his patients can do nothing about is air pollution.

11:53 Committee witness Harvey Brenner is expounding on the importance of a strong economy for Americans' health. Another good reason why Congress should support the Clean Air Act, since the 1990 amendments to the act added $1.3 trillion in public health and environmental benefits last year.

11: 39 Senator Vitter recently used his time asking Administrator Jackson about formaldehyde, basing his attack on a recent review by the National Academy of Sciences examining EPA's science on formaldehyde. But Vitter is shooting blanks, as my colleague Jen Sass recently pointed out:

The report confirms EPA’s determination that formaldehyde causes cancer in humans.

...

EPA identified a risk of leukemia associated with formaldehyde. Although the chemical industry disputes this, The National Cancer Institute (NCI), the World Health Organization (WHO/IARC), and the National Toxicology Program (NTP) have all identified a possible link with leukemia.

In short, NAS asked EPA to state its reasoning more concisely, and to separate out leukemia risks from lymphoma risks, the Academies supported EPA in developing a cancer risk estimate for leukemia. Regardless of how Senator Vitter chooses to interpret this, NAS didn't say EPA's science is wrong.

11:33 Senator Inhofe mentioned his support for legislation that would create additional layers of red tape when EPA updates clean air standards. There is legislation that would dramatically increase the number of agencies dragged into the process of protecting public health from air pollution (called TRAIN, appropriately enough, for a bill that would railroad Americans' right to clean air).

But the Small Business Majority just commented on such an approach, saying "The TRAIN Act is just another way for some lawmakers on Capitol Hill to try to tear down the EPA and prevent the necessary enforcement of the Clean Air Act. They’re not doing small businesses any favors. Small businesses have benefited from smart policies like the Clean Air Act and from the agencies that implement them."

11:26 Vitter says that his problem and the problem on 'his side of the podium' is that they just don't have confidence that the EPA makes its decisions based on ideology, not on sound science. Hey Senator Vitter, you may not have confidence...but the American people sure do. Polling shows quite clearly that 69 percent of Americans – including 59 percent of Republicans and 69  percent of Independents -- think EPA scientists, not Congress, should decide what pollution limits are needed.

Further, Americans believe that Congress should let the EPA do its job:

11:23 Kids health and pollution fact: "Mothers exposed to high levels of [carbon monoxide] and particles during pregnancy are at higher risk of adverse birth outcomes, including preterm delivery, low birth weight, and congenital heart defects."

11:12: Senator Inhofe has yet to ask a question about protecting public health from air pollution, even though there are tens of thousands of asthmatic kids in Oklahoma; some of whom suffered from such severe asthma attacks that nearly 8,500 times a year kids are rush to the emergency room, gasping for breath.

11:10 Senator Barrasso seems awfully unhappy about clean air safeguards, which is ironic given that he's hosting his third annual Jackson Hole Teton "Tee Off" fundraiser in August in the beautiful Tetons. Cost: $5,000 per PAC or $2,500 per individual.

11:07 Kids and air pollution fact: Kids' developing respiratory systems are particularly vulnerable to air pollution.

11:02 Kids and air pollution fact: Children also spend more time outside than adults. The average adult, except for those who work mostly outdoors, spends most of their time indoors -- at home, work, or even at the gym. Children spend more time outside, and are often outdoors during periods when air pollution is at its highest.

11:01: Kids and air pollution fact: When a child is exercising at maximum levels, such as during a soccer game or other sports event, they may take in 20 percent to 50 percent more air -- and more air pollution -- than would an adult in comparable activity.

10:58: Lisa Jackson: EPA has found that as the climate changes and areas become noticeably warmer, that exacerbates ozone alert days - smog. And the Union of Concerned Scientists recently reported on how much worse warming temperatures will make smog pollution: about 12 million additional serious respiratory illnesses, 30,000 more infant and senior hospitalizations, and over 4 million additional lost school days in 2050. 

10:53: Some Committee members might not like the EPA - but the rest of America does. According to a recent survey done for the American Lung Association, 69 percent of Americans say they think the EPA should update Clean Air Act standards to make them stricter. And 69% of Americans think that scientists should set pollution standards rather than Congress.

10:52: Mercury Fact: In 2005, researchers using Centers for Disease Control data found that “between 316,588 and 637,233 children each year have cord blood mercury levels [higher than the] level[s] associated with loss of IQ.”

10:49 Senator Inhofe just agreed that the Supreme Court told the EPA "Yes, you have the authority..." to tackle carbon pollution.

10:43: Senator Vitter, do you know what the state of Louisiana says about coal-fired power plants and mercury? Here it is:

In the aggregate, facilities that burn coal to generate electricity are the largest emitters of mercury/mercury compounds in the U.S.1 and the second largest emitters of mercury/mercury compounds in Louisiana...Exposure to mercury in all its forms can cause adverse health effects in humans. At high doses, exposure in the womb can cause such severe effects as mental retardation, cerebral palsy, deafness, and blindness.

10:43: Senator Boxer: "Senator Barrasso's comments lead me to believe he is living in an alternate universe." 

10:37 Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) just complained that EPA regulations are anti "Red, White and Blue" energy sources. Senator, I don't think that energy sources whose pollution is responsible for killing thousands of Americans every year and making tens of thousands ill is all that patriotic.

10:34: Sen. Inhofe and Republican committee members are bemoaning how much clean air protections are hurting power company AEP, which gets much of its power from coal. But AEP had a gross operating profit of $4.4 billion last year. Its CEO, Mike Morris, was paid $8.7 million – a 22 percent raise from the previous year. Poor AEP. . . and poor us, since AEP is leading the fight to delay reductions in the dangerous air pollution from power plants which would save tens of thousands of lives every year.

10:29: Senator Inhofe referenced the Wall Street Journal op-ed dismissing the health impacts of mercury and downplaying the contribution of power plants to airborne mercury emissions that get into our food supplies. The oped noted that forest fires emit large amounts of airborne mercury as proof. But it didn't mention that a substantial portion of the mercury in those forests was deposited from air pollution caused by human beings

10:25: Mercury fact: Kids who are exposed to mercury before birth can have later problems with  language, memory, and ability to pay attention.

10:22 Senator Whitehouse notes that every single one of our 50 states has official warnings about the dangers of mercury. We published a table showing this last week right here.

10:20: Senator Whitehouse points out that saving lives and preventing illness by reducing air pollution has far outweighed the costs of cleaning up. As my colleague Laurie Johnson recently pointed out,  

The 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act added $1.3 trillion in public health and environmental benefits to the U.S. economy last year, according to an EPA study earlier this year - at a cost of about $50 billion. Thats a 26-1 return - something any investor would like.

10:17: Senator Inhofe's home state of Oklahoma says this about mercury, one of the toxic pollutants the EPA is cracking down on: "Mercury can become airborne when coal, oil, wood, or natural gas are burned as fuel ... Mercury affects the human brain, spinal cord, kidneys, lungs and liver. Symptoms of short-term exposure to high levels of mercury include nausea, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches, sore gums, and an elevated white blood cell count. Symptoms of long-term exposure include tingling sensations in the fingers and toes, numbness around the mouth, and tremors. Long-term exposure can result in symptoms that get progressively worse and lead to personality changes, tunnel vision, stupor and coma."

Sounds bad! Someone should do something about this. Oh wait - the EPA is working on it, but Senators like Jim Inhofe consistently oppose EPA efforts to protect our health. Tell EPA you support reducing toxic air pollution from power plants.

10:13: Ranking Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe leads off by characterizing updates to clean air safeguards that will save lives as government interference in our lives. I'm sure that's a perspective shared by his two biggest campaign contributors from 1989-2010 were Koch Industries and Murray Energy, according to opensecrets.org

10:07: Senator Boxer outlines the successes of the Clean Air Act in reducing air pollution and protecting public health.

9:59: Center for American Progress has a great blog this am pointing out that one of the witnesses from the 2nd panel is a Senior VP from Mid-American Energy, one of the nation's leading power producers. Mid-American uses a lot of coal to generate electricity, so it is also one of the nation's biggest toxic air polultion sources with nearly 2 million pounds of toxics reported to the 2009 Toxic Release Inventory.

Hmmm...I wonder what Mid-American Energy will have to say about EPA efforts to reduce dangerous air pollution?

You can get your say and support reducing toxic air pollution from power plants by taking action here.

9:55: In just a few minutes EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson will testify before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on ... the Clean Air Act and Public Health.

I'm going to live-blog this hearing, so follow along for updates, fact-checks and outrageous claim analysis as the hearing unfolds. Follow on twitter @NRDCLive.

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Comments

Anon anonJun 15 2011 03:40 PM

Re: fetal exposure to mercury causing later problems in language, memory and attention deficit problems...

Since the potential mercury-vaccine link to autism spectrum disorders has been disproven, is there any research that looks at other sources of mercury in conjunction with these disorders? Like, say fetal exposure?

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