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July 08, 2011

American Public: 1, Polluters: 0

This week, the New York Times ran a profile on EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who some people think has the toughest job in the Obama administration. I was struck by how the article described her as being "behind enemy lines with only science, the law and a small band of loyal lieutenants to support her."

What an odd perspective. From that viewpoint, Jackson appears to be a solitary, lonely warrior, and there's hardly anyone to be found in all of America who really cares about clean air, clean water, and public health besides a "small band" of do-gooders inside the EPA. Of course, the opposite is true: A supermajority of the American public -- across party lines -- believes that we need to do more to stand up to polluters. A bipartisan poll released this spring by the American Lung Association revealed how three quarters of Americans want to see stronger, updated standards on all forms of air toxics, soot, smog, and carbon pollution.

Yesterday, the EPA met this sentiment with action by announcing the first of a series of air pollution regulations that will be rolled out during the next few months. This one, called the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, addresses the long-standing problem that pollution from coal-fired power plants frequently travels hundreds of miles and across state lines. Here's how a different article in the New York Times described what the new rule means:

By the time the new requirements take effect in 2014, power plants will need to have cut their sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent and their nitrogen oxides by 54 percent from 2005 levels.

Cutting down on pollution that leads to soot and smog -- as well as acid rain and hazy outdoor air -- is expected to prevent 13,000 to 34,000 people from dying prematurely each year. The benefits would be greatest in northeastern states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, which would see an estimated 3,100 and 2,900 early deaths avoided annually.

What wasn't mentioned is that investing in modern pollution controls mandated by this rule will cause net savings for American consumers. Save lives and save money -– what's not to like?

Polluters opposed this, not because it will save lives, but because, and this comes straight from the president of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity: "America's coal-fueled electric industry… needs adequate time to install clean coal technologies."

How much more time do they want? Another 20,000 deaths? 40,000? You don't need science or the law to see the absurdity of that argument. Just common sense and a little humanity.

So kudos to Administrator Jackson for standing up to polluters and doing her job of protecting our health. She may be behind enemy lines, but she's most definitely not alone.

There's more work to be done.  During the coming months, the EPA will finalize important new air-pollution rules on ozone, toxic mercury, and carbon pollution. All of them face opposition from polluters and their allies. So for those of us who'd rather stand on the side of science, the law, and common sense, let's make it very clear that America is ready to move beyond the tired arguments of dirty energy industries. Make your voice count! Send a message here to the EPA that we need them to continue to stand firm against polluters.

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