Preserve the Clean Air Act’s Protections

NWF   |   January 25, 2010

By Larry J. Schweiger

I posted this response “Preserve the Clean Air Act’s Protections” on National Journal’s blog in response to the following question:

Should Congress Stop EPA?

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, last week introduced a disapproval resolution — essentially a congressional veto — that would stop the EPA from controlling greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Murkowski, the top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, argued that Congress, not EPA, should determine federal climate change policy.

Should EPA regulate carbon dioxide emissions? Is the Obama administration using the agency to force Congress to pass legislation? Could EPA regulation help industry plan for a low-carbon future? Should the agency’s power be temporarily suspended to give Congress more time to hash out a bill? Or should EPA be barred from controlling greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act? How could this resolution affect the overall debate on climate legislation?

My response:

Just last week, NASA announced 2009 was the 2nd-hottest year on record, with the 2000s being the hottest decade on record. That leaves Sen. Murkowski and her supporters in a delicate position. With climate science looking more dire by the day, why would they try to direct the Environmental Protection Agency to ignore scientific climate findings about global warming’s threat to human health?

Sen. Murkowski’s effort would allow unlimited emissions of carbon pollution from the biggest corporate polluters and could stall the growth in clean energy jobs by creating uncertainty about our government’s commitment to a cleaner energy future. Clean Energy Works has rightly called it a Dirty Air Act.

Sen. Murkowski says she prefers a legislative solution and we encourage her to focus on finding one. But in the meantime, we urge her to stop attacking the EPA and the Clean Air Act, which are the best tools we currently have to begin addressing climate change.

Since 1970, the Clean Air Act has a proven track record of protecting public health and the environment from harmful pollution while ensuring our economy is strengthened. Between 1970 and 1990 actions to reduce air pollution saved the nation an estimated $22 trillion in health costs and lost productivity, at a cost of $523 billion—a remarkable 40-1 benefit-cost ratio. In 1990, the Clean Air Act was revised with bipartisan support and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush – demonstrating that goals of clean air and less pollution are shared by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Now is the time to move forward as a country in confronting climate change and building a clean energy economy. This so-called Dirty Air Act would to takeaway a critical tool that can be used to stop the unlimited emissions of global warming pollution from the nation’s biggest polluters, and would stall growth of clean energy jobs by creating uncertainty about the America’s commitment to a cleaner energy future. It’s precisely the wrong approach to take in solving today’s most pressing environmental and economic problems.