By Leon G. Billings
On May 17, a Committee of the United States House of Representatives voted to repeal the very premise, the heart of the Clean Air Act. By a party line vote of 28-18 the Committee rejected an amendment to strike this outrageous provision and decided to replace science with politics in determining whether the air is clean or dirty. By replacing the requirement that scientific analysis be the premise for defining the levels of air pollution that cause adverse health effects with a requirement that polluters, politicians and economists set “clean air” levels based on cost, these House Committee Republicans would repeal the fundamental premise of the Clean Air Act: that every American has a right to breathe healthy air.
On Thursday, June 21, the House of Representatives will vote on the legislation which has been rolled into large package of bills that block clean air protection and promote big oil’s agenda.
In 1963 Congress agreed, unanimously, that the Public Health Service ought to research the available health science to determine how clean the air we breathe needed to be to protect public health. The Clean Air Act is credited with preventing 160,000 premature deaths 54,000 cases of chronic bronchitis and 1.7 million asthma attacks, all while saving the U.S. economy more than $1.3 trillion in 2010 alone.
These “air quality standards” are simply the level of air pollution above which people’s lungs are threatened and health endangered. To date only in China has a government decided that people are not entitled to know when their health is endangered by dirty air. Earlier this month, China demanded that the U.S. Embassy stop releasing air quality information. Fortunately, the United States has rebuffed China’s demand. The House Leadership bill, if enacted, would mean that the people of the United States will not be told of the risks of air pollution just like China’s approach.
Is China’s air pollution policy the model for Speaker John Boehner, Leader Eric Cantor, Whip Kevin McCarthy, Chairman Fred Upton and his fellow Republican Committee Members?
The GOP controlled House of Representatives is on the verge of deciding that the American people ought not to know if air pollution is threatening their health. Energy company polluters have tried for four decades to repeal the requirement that sound science be the basis for clean air regulation. They went so far as to challenge this sound science in the Courts only to be rejected in a unanimous decision of the US Supreme Court written by Justice Antonin Scalia.
The vast majority of Americans want healthy air. According to bipartisan surveys for the American Lung Association strong majorities (greater than 2 to 1) want EPA not Congress to set air pollution standards.
Every family who has a kid who has asthma or other lung problem wants healthy air. Virtually every cardiologist and pulmonologist would agree that dirty air is bad for heart patients and people with lung ailments. But 28 Republican members of a House Committee and their elected leadership think the polluters’ economic interests should guide US policy air pollution information.
We can disagree on taxes and deficits — but suffocating our citizens because polluter lobbyists don’t want to pay to clean the air so everyone can breathe freely sounds more like China’s approach not America.
– Leon G. Billings was staff director of the Senate Environmental Pollution Subcommittee, and had primary staff responsibility for writing the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. He was chief of staff to Edmund Muskie when Muskie was Senator and Secretary of State. He served as Executive Director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the 1982 cycle and served 12 years in the Maryland legislature.