Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held its confirmation hearing for Gina McCarthy, who was nominated by President Obama to be our next Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator. During the hearing, one of her chief inquisitors was Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), who is one of three doctors in the United States Senate and a long-time opponent of public health safeguards from dirty air, water and climate pollution.
Barrasso used this opportunity to indicate that he only applies the physician’s Hippocratic Oath to “keep them from harm and injustice” when the harm would occur to the profits of big oil and coal companies. Furthermore, he frequently denies the ever-strengthening scientific understanding that human activity is responsible for climate change. It’s like a physician denying that smoking causes cancer.
Barrasso began his opening statement today by falsely accusing the Obama administration and the EPA of “making it impossible for our coal miners to feed their families…. These people are heroes and they deserve better than what they are getting from the EPA.” The facts say otherwise — the average number of coal-mining jobs under the Obama administration has been over 15 percent higher than under George W. Bush. Moreover, McCarthy has received a lot of support from industry officials including American Electric Power, a company that relies heavily on coal.
This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that Barrasso has provided protection for polluters’ profits over public health concerns. Let’s examine some of the most extreme attacks from the good doctor:
- Attempted To Reverse Scientific Finding That Greenhouse Gases Harm Public Health. In 2011, Barrasso introduced legislation to not only prohibit the EPA from regulating carbon pollution, but ban the federal government from even studying what is happening with our climate. The bill would have overturned the EPA’s findings that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are harmful to public health and the environment — and blocked federal regulations under the Clean Air Act as well as under the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act. Barrasso even included a provision to take away the EPA’s ability to reduce carbon pollution from automobiles, handing that power over to the Department of Transportation. The EPA was essential in the landmark deals reached on greenhouse gas emissions with automakers and states in 2009 and 2011 to double the distance cars travel on a gallon of gas. These deals have resulted in cleaner, more efficient cars that save families money due to lower gasoline purchases.
- Voted To Abolish Mercury And Toxic Air Pollution Protections. Dr. Barrasso voted to eliminate EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) for power plants, once again putting utilities interests above the health of our children. Power plants are the largest source of domestic mercury pollution — a known neurotoxin that impairs brain development in the unborn and small children. The standard’s pollution reductions will prevent up to 11,000 early deaths and 130,000 asthma attacks annually. Gina McCarthy has previously testified before Congress that the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards will provide up to $90 billion in health benefits every year, or up to $9 for every $1 in clean-up costs.
- Tirelessly Attacked The EPA. Barrasso has repeatedly claimed that he EPA’s main goal was no longer protecting the environment, but rather “remaking society,” and has even co-sponsored legislation to abolish the agency in its entirety. In a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, he chastised the “heavy-handed” EPA for shutting down factories, discouraging energy exploration, burying job creators under red tape, and deliberately hiding information from the public. Barrasso goes on to claim that the EPA’s regulations only “chase microscopic benefits at a maximum cost.” Yet EPA’s protocols on air, water and pollution saves thousands of lives, prevents chronic illnesses and hospital visits, which avoids extra sick days and leads to long-term economic benefits. For example, EPA’s Boiler MACT rule would prevent up to 7,900 premature deaths each year and provide up to $67 billion in annual economic benefits — outweighing the annualized costs by at least $23 billion.
- Adamant Climate Denier. Most physicians stay informed about the latest medical research, and alter their treatments accordingly. Not Dr. Barrasso. He has consistently denied the science behind climate change, despite the fact that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that it is occurring and “very likely” caused mainly by human activity. Barrasso admitted to being “legislatively … on the same page” as Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), who wrote a book titled The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, in which he argued that only God can change the climate and the idea that manmade pollution could affect the seasons is “arrogance.” During Secretary of State John Kerry’s confirmation hearing, Barrasso stressed that the US should not aim to curb greenhouse gases, as it would have “very little impact on the global climate” and urged Kerry to give considerable thought to using resources. However, Secretary Kerry has consistently advocated for acting on climate change, stating that “we as a nation must have the foresight and courage to make the investments necessary to safeguard the most sacred trust we keep for our children and grandchildren: an environment not ravaged by rising seas, deadly superstorms, devastating droughts, and the other hallmarks of a dramatically changing climate.”
So why is Senator Barrasso is protecting polluter interests over public health? Maybe it has something to do with the $526,866 in campaign donations from oil or gas. Or maybe the $122,831 from the coal industry? Whatever the reason, the doctor is a longtime practitioner of political malpractice.