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October 21, 2011

Congress Ignores the People When Dismantling Public Health, Environmental Protections

SmogAs a mom, I often take for granted that the water I put in my daughters sippy cup is safe, and the air that she breathes when she’s playing outside is cleaner than it was when I was a child. This is no accident – it's the result of decades of enforcement of basic health and environmental safeguards. Unfortunately, it looks like we can’t take those protections for granted anymore.

Last week the House of Representatives continued its assault on public health and environmental protections by passing bills that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from doing its job. Yes, it's hard to believe. But it's even more astonishing that our representatives are taking these radical actions in the face of new polling information that shows overwhelming majorities of Americans support stronger health and environmental standards, and they also think Congress should back off and let EPA do its job.

First, the House passed legislation that would block critical protections against toxic mercury and other dangerous chemicals and metals emitted by industrial boilers, which are among the nation’s biggest and dirtiest sources of mercury pollution. Boilers exist in and around hospitals, schools and communities across the country, exposing Americans to toxic mercury pollution, a known brain poison that threatens the development of young children.  

Then, as I detailed in my column last week, they passed a bill that would put a weak scheme in place that requires more protections on household trash than toxic coal ash, even though coal ash pollution includes health risks like cancer, neurological disorders, birth defects, reproductive failure, asthma and other serious illnesses.

Not only are House members not paying attention how important these critical protections are, but they are also not listening to Americans. Last week, Ceres released a poll showing that American voters overwhelmingly support two critical EPA rules that limit air pollution from electric power plants. Some (77%) support the stronger protections now in the works that would reduce emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollution from coal fired power plants.

Support for these those protections cross political boundaries - among Republicans, more than 3-in-5 support this air toxics rule. Voters also don't buy into the notion that these rules will cost jobs and hurt the economy: 66% believe that the protections will promote both short-term and long-term job growth. Voters expect the EPA's protections to have positive impacts on air quality (84%), people's health (82%), and water quality (75%).

Now House members have their sights set on the Cross State Air Pollution safeguard, which would improve air quality for over 240 million Americans. It's an update of commonsense protection that has been in place for years. These improvements to the standard are poised prevent up to 34,000 deaths and 400,000 cases of aggravated asthma, with a benefit to cost ratio of 350:1.

That same Ceres poll shows that 66% of Americans support the Cross State Air Pollution safeguard.

Another key finding: 75% say the EPA - not Congress - should determine air pollution standards.

It's time for Congress to listen to Americans: Stop trying to gut the Clean Air Act and stop blocking efforts to protect public health. Let EPA do its job.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign

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