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Americans of Both Parties Support EPA Effort to Cut the Pollution that Causes Climate Change

Peter Lehner

Posted September 16, 2010 in Health and the Environment, Solving Global Warming

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Over the past few months, several members of Congress have tried to undermine the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to reduce pollution. They especially want to stop the agency from cutting the emissions that cause climate change.

While these efforts benefit polluters, they do not reflect the wishes of the American people—the vast majority of whom see the EPA as one of our best tools for holding polluters accountable.

A new poll conducted by Opinion Research Corp /Infogroup for NRDC found that 82 percent of Americans support the work of the EPA. And 73 percent support protecting the EPA's authority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from utilities and other major industrial polluters.

Interestingly, support for the EPA was strong across party lines: 71 percent of Republicans, 89 percent of Independents, and 93 percent of Democrats back the agency.

This multi-partisan support reminds me of another time in politics. In 1990, President Bush signed the Clean Air Act Amendments, which contained the first air pollution cap-and-trade program and which the EPA administers. Before it landed on the president’s desk, it passed the House by an overwhelming bi-partisan majority of 401-25 and the Senate by 89-10.

Back then, lawmakers were more willing to place Americans’ health concerns over polluters’ desire to dump garbage in our environment for free. And the EPA was the agency that could help get the job done. It still is today.

I am not surprised the American people value the EPA. I just got back from a trip to China, and anyone who has seen or heard about the pollution there would never agree to limit the power of the EPA. The smog was so thick, I couldn’t see the sun for a week, never mind the skyscrapers a mile away, and my eyes and throat burned most of the time. Americans know that but for the grace of the Clean Air Act, we would be breathing in the same toxic clouds.

Americans know that the EPA makes real, concrete improvements in our lives.  After all, it has prevented hundreds of thousands of premature death. It reduced the smog that causes heart and respiratory disease, phased out the CFCs that contribute to skin cancer, and removed the lead from gasoline that was causing neurological damage and lowering children’s IQ.

Polluting industries fiercely opposed each one of these efforts to make our air safer to breathe. Without the EPA holding firm and backing their programs with the best scientific evidence available, we wouldn’t have achieved the public health gains of the past few decades.

Americans know that most polluters won’t cut their dirty emissions voluntarily. That is why seven out of ten people polled said they agreed with the statement: “If Congress blocks the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from doing its job of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electric utilities and other major industrial polluters, it would send the wrong message to polluters, namely, that Congress isn't willing to hold polluters accountable.”

In the wake of the BP oil disaster and the mortgage and banking meltdown, Americans realize that it helps to have a line of defense between our families and those companies that think only of their profit margins consequences be damned.

When it comes to toxins and noxious gases in our air, sewage in our water, and carbon in our atmosphere, the EPA provides that line of defense, and Americans count on the agency for assessing health risks.

The poll found that 83 percent of people think scientists and other experts at the EPA are “the most qualified to make decisions about how best to safeguard the American public when dealing with greenhouse gas emissions and other major pollutants,” compared to 9 percent of Americans who said Congress should make such decisions.

The EPA has a 40-year track record of protecting our health. It isn’t a perfect agency, but it has consistently pushed polluters to clean up their messes. Americans value what it has achieved, and, as the poll shows, they expect the agency to do the same to curb the pollution that causes climate change.

 

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Comments

Barb ShullaSep 18 2010 08:01 AM

At some point we are going to have to understand we are creatures of a "world" and if our world is not healthy, we, as a species will not be able to live well.
This is not a matter of "money" or resources". It is a matter of increasing cancer and other diseases in all our children, regardless if they live in a Mansion or middle class neighborhood. We will watch them sicken and cry in hte night, helpless. We need to committ to a healthy, clean world NOW... or we will have no choice.

Jim Bullis, Miastrada CompanySep 19 2010 03:47 PM

The EPA is showing its planning work where the impact of their approach to controlling CO2 is made clear with their conclusion that 'carbon' capture is estimated to cost up to $95 per ton of CO2. Given that this translates to 12/44 ton of elemental carbon, or about 6/11 ton of Powder River Basin coal we can expect the present cost of using a ton of that coal to go from $12 spot price plus $8 for transportation totalling $20 now to a new figure including added 'capture' costs only, that would be a total of around $200 per ton of coal used.

Applying the balanced judgment that NRDC is known for, one has to imagine this could be seen as something that the economy can not handle, and probably, such planning causes much discouragement of the desperately needed industrial expansion of our country.

For those of us who look for mitigation in ways that look possible and even beneficial in our economic ecosystem, perhaps some consideration might be given to a proposition not much discussed as of yet. The IPCC seems to generally endorse things of this sort, but there has not been anything discussed of a scale that could get the job done.
I particularly react to the ill founded plans emerging from the EPA to require CO2 (they think it is carbon) to be captured from power plant stacks and pounded into holes in the ground. Thus motivated, the following seems interesting:
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Barely noticed, if at all, the Chinese showed intention of significant action against CO2 emissions in their forestation plan. We in the USA could take a hint about how to actually accomplish something without wrecking our fundamental industrial base.
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President Hu said, “— we will energetically increase forest carbon — we will endeavor to increase forest coverage by 40 million hectares (2.5 acres) and forest stock volume by 1.3 billion cubic meters by 2020 from 2005 levels.” This was reported by Joe Romm at his ‘climateprogress’ web site. See – http://climateprogress.org/2009/09/23/are-chinese-emissions-pledges-a-game-changer-for-senate-action-president-hu-un-speech/
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This part of the speech went un-noticed on the particular Joe Romm discussion. However, it seems to contain the critical answer regarding ‘carbon’ capture and sequestration. For us to do it here in the USA it could turn out to costing less than nothing, and IT COULD ACTUALLY ACCOMPLISH THE FULL SCALE TASK.
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A clue about how China might accomplish might be seen in the water policy behind their construction of the world’s largest dam.
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In the USA we could establish on barren desert lands, standing forests with massive ‘forest stock volume’ which would capture CO2 from coal on a roughly ton of forest stock for a ton of coal basis. (Powder River Basin coal is the reference here.) I point out, we are talking about standing forest. It would only require water and a little good sense.
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Good sense is necessary to negotiate North American water distribution that would bring excess water from the far North, yes Canada, down through the USA and Mexico. Yes, Canada would get a share of the productive benefits of this new water arrangement, and it goes far beyond forest establishment.
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Of course Canada would get credit toward their green pledges, and to sweeten the deal, we could tell the EPA to leave off haranguing them about their oil sands CO2 emissions.
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And certainly there would be a need for due consideration for the balance of the things in the Arctic region; shifting water away from Hudsons Bay would mean less heat would be carried there by north flowing rivers, and more salinity would develop in those waters. The net effect would no doubt be unresolvable, so perhaps the water would better come from watersheds that open to more open ocean regions.
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This is certainly an approach that would warrant careful environmental evaluation, but given that it would offer a viable solution to CO2 control, perhaps NRDC would give it some consideration.

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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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