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June 06, 2011

Dear EPA: Haste Makes Waste

This week, the National Journal asked public health, climate, and energy experts whether the EPA should delay its air-pollution rules. The Sierra Club has been fighting polluters of our air and water for decades. With apologies to Jonathan Swift, here is my response:

Yes, the EPA should definitely delay its air-pollution rules. Admittedly, the cost of doing so won't make it easy. By the agency's own estimate, we would lose an estimated $59 billion to $140 billion in healthcare cost savings during the next five years. Then again, healthcare is the responsibility of a different government department.

A little tougher will be knowing that not cleaning up mercury, acid gases, and other toxic pollution from power plants means that hundreds of thousands of people will get sick -- and as many as 17,000 of them will die prematurely during each year of delay. Everybody's got to go sometime, though.

Then there are the children. Exposure to mercury, as Administrator Jackson succinctly put it, "destroys our children's brains." That sounds harsh, but at least it makes the thousands of asthma attacks kids suffer as result of unchecked air pollution seem a little less scary by comparison. And although it might seem heartless to sicken countless kids by delaying action, we should remember that most of them will live through it (even if they are permanently handicapped).

Assuming we can handle the sick kids and the premature deaths, we shouldn't have trouble saying goodbye to the thousands of jobs that would be generated by installing clean-air controls in the roughly half of the country's power plants that don't already have them. True, job creation is a political hot potato, but compared to brain-damaged children, it hardly seems like a deal breaker.

Not convinced? Nobody said this would be easy. But if you still think that (after waiting for twenty-one years), we should rashly clean up one of the most harmful sources of pollution in our country, remember the one argument that supersedes all others. In fact, it's the only reason to do nothing: Because that's exactly what Big Oil and Big Coal want.

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