House Republicans continue to push for legislation that strips EPA of its ability to protect public health from carbon dioxide pollution. While this would lead to more smog-related illnesses and other ailments, it would also save big oil companies billions of dollars in cleanup costs. Fortunately, more and more legislators and others are speaking up in opposition. CAP’s Lee Hamill has the story.
On April 4th, Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA), John Dingell (D-MI) and Bobby Rush (D-IL) together with 152 House Democrats sent a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) urging him to reject these attempts to weaken the Clean Air Act, or CAA. These are enough representatives to sustain a presidential veto of legislation that would block or delay EPA’s authority to reduce mercury, other toxins, or carbon dioxide pollution.
The congressmen reminded Boehner that the CAA was enacted and improved with broad bipartisan support from Democratic and Republican presidents and legislators. The congressional letter reiterated the CAA’s vast health benefits, including the prevention of 160,000 premature deaths, 1.7 million asthma attacks and 13 million lost work days in 2010 alone. It also noted that
since 1970, the Clean Air Act has reduced key air pollutants by 60 percent, while at the same time the economy grew by over 200 percent.
The House letter was preceded by the introduction last week of a Senate resolution, S. Res. 119, that recognized the
past, present, and future public health and economic benefits of cleaner air due to the successful implementation of the Clean Air Act.
The Senate resolution was introduced on March 31st by 34 Senate Democrats – also enough to sustain a veto – and points out the millions of jobs the CAA has created over its lifetime, in addition to its health and other economic benefits. The resolution cites twelve medical professional and public health organizations that call the undisrupted implementation of the Clean Air Act a “matter of life and death for tens of thousands of people”.
Together, the House letter and Senate resolution demonstrate the solid block of Democrats that have united to stop efforts to gut enforcement of the Clean Air Act. It sends a clear message to Republicans in Congress that its efforts to undo existing health protections will face an uphill battle.
The House-passed budget for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2011 includes a rider that would block EPA from setting pollution reduction safeguards. In addition, the House is likely to vote on a free-standing bill that would permanently prevent EPA from enforcing parts of the Clean Air Act. Sponsored by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-MI), H.R. 910 would halt EPA from establishing reduction standards for carbon dioxide pollution from coal fired power plants, oil refineries, and the other very largest polluters.
H.R. 910 would also disrupt improved fuel economy standards scheduled to take effect this fall, which would reduce oil use by at least 1.8 billion barrels over the life of vehicles built from 2012-2016. It would also short circuit efforts to further improve fuel economy for cars built from 2017-2025, and trucks built from 2014 and beyond. This could increase Americans’ reliance on foreign oil imports, which already comprises over half of U.S. oil consumption. The Upton bill should be called “the Asthma for Everyone and More Imported Oil Act of 2011.”
A large number of public interest nonprofit organizations are coming together in opposition to this bill. On April 4th, 500 nongovernmental organizations added their voices to the opposition to Upton’s bill that is scheduled for debate and votes on the House floor this Wednesday April 6th. The United Auto Workers expressed their concern that H.R. 910 would cost auto workers their jobs by upending the carefully crafted improvements in fuel economy, joining these 500 groups in opposition to Upton’s pro-pollution, pro-foreign oil bill.
Other labor unions oppose H.R. 910, too. The BlueGreen Alliance – a national partnership started in 2006 by the Sierra Club and United Steelworkers – added its voice to those who oppose the Upton bill due to its harmful health and economic ramifications with a letter of their own. They, on behalf of their fourteen partners, presented a comprehensive overview of the legislation’s negative impacts. The letter succeeded BlueGreen’s March 15th statement supporting EPA regulations.
The take away message is undeniable: Legislators, unions, and organizations are presenting a united front in opposition to the House and Senate anti-EPA bills. They are joining the millions of Americans, both Republican and Democrat, who believe that the EPA should continue to do its job protecting public health. President Obama can confidently oppose efforts to protect big oil profits instead of public health because enough legislators have publicly declared that they have his back should he be forced to veto legislation with such provisions. He must continue to oppose these and other efforts to harm public health wherever they may appear, including in the pending bill to fund the federal government for the remainder of this fiscal year.
– CAP’s Energy Intern Lee Hamill.