Since health care reform is on the Senate agenda right now, I’m reposting this Think Progress piece. Looks like the WV Chamber is a chip-off-the-block of the incredible shrinking U.S. Chamber. Coal use, of course, is one reason why everyone needs access to health care (see “NRC: Burning fossil fuels costs the U.S. $120 billion a year “” not counting mercury or climate impacts!“). See also “If you want smarter kids, shut coal plants.”
Corporate front groups and large business trade associations are funneling their resources into defeating health reform. Even though health reform will lower costs for small businesses and boost worker productivity economy-wide, it appears that corporate entities influenced by major polluters are hoping that the defeat of health care legislation will slow President Obama’s agenda and derail their true enemy: clean energy reform.
The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, which is largely backed by the coal industry, candidly revealed this strategy in a letter released today to Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Robert Byrd (D-WV). The Chamber of Commerce demanded that the senators use “their clout and seniority” to obstruct the health reform debate until cap and trade legislation is taken off the table and the EPA is barred from regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant. As Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette noted, Rockefeller has already rejected a similar proposal of blocking health reform unless the EPA stops reviewing mountaintop removal permits. The coal lobby has also pressured West Virginia state legislators to pass resolutions opposing clean energy reform.
The coal industry’s selfish push to block health reform displays how little it cares about West Virginia and the communities where coal is burned for energy. Not only do 19 percent of West Virginians lack health insurance, but coal is literally killing people:
- The American Lung Association reports that there are 24,000 premature deaths every year due to coal power plant pollution. In addition, the ALA research estimates that coal pollution causes over 550,000 asthma attacks, 38,000 heart attacks and 12,000 hospital admissions.
- A report by Physicians for Social Responsibility found that coal combustion releases mercury, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and dozens of other substances known to be hazardous to human health. These coal pollutants are associated with increased congestive heart failure, lung cancer, infant mortality, stunted lung development, and Ischemic stroke, among other diseases.
The national Chamber of Commerce is also fighting health reform tooth and nail. Like the West Virginia Chamber, the U.S. Chamber is dominated by coal and polluter interests and denies the science underpinning climate change. The U.S. Chamber’s extreme approached forced pro-clean energy companies Apple, Levi Strauss & Company, Mohawk Paper and the utilities Pacific Gas and Electric, Exelon and PNM Resources to resign from the Chamber. By killing both clean energy and health reform, U.S. Chamber President Tom Donohue may be hoping to protect his own wallet. Donohue sits on the board of a major coal industry player, Union Pacific.
Indeed, one of the most powerful corporate front groups, Americans for Prosperity, is focusing its efforts on defeating health reform. Although AFP is backed by oil industry giant David Koch, his ultimate goal of stopping clean energy appears to begin with stopping health reform.