U.S. House to Push Pro-Polluter Agenda in Fall

The U.S. House of Representatives will return to Washington after their summer vacation Labor Day weekend intent on dirtying the air and impairing the health of millions of Americans, just as youngsters wait for school buses and romp at recess and as collegians race across campus to fall football games.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va) recently sent a memo to his fellow GOP lawmakers outlining their fall agenda. At the top of Cantor’s list is undermining policies that protect human health and the environment, longstanding efforts upheld by the courts, to prevent premature death and diseases like asthma, emphysema and heart disease and conditions like runny noses and irritated eyes and throats. People who work outside, from school patrol officers to roofers, would be breathing dirtier air if Mr. Cantor gets his way.

photo by Dylan Passmore

Mr. Cantor’s attack plan includes several measures:

  • Nullifying tighter limits on ozone, a ground-level pollutant. Ozone or smog currently affects 60 to 80 million people. Half of Americans live in counties that fail to meet ozone standards, says the American Lung Association. This year, around 250 communities and parks in nearly 40 states have had one or more “code orange” days.
    Blocking EPA action means more “bad air days.” Stronger standards could save 12,000 lives a year.
  • Prohibiting changes that strengthen protection against dust pollution or particulates, such as dust from farming operations in unpaved areas.
  • Crippling rules to curb carbon pollution from new and existing oil, natural gas, and coal-fired power plants and oil refineries.Warmer temperatures can increase ozone or smog and exacerbate the effects of allergens like ragweed. With more warming and looser limits, we’ll see more heat waves, vector-borne diseases and severe weather events, all of which create more health hazards.
  • Curbing efforts to cut pollution that crosses state lines. Pollutants like smog from East Coast cities sully places like Maine’s Acadia National Park and Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, favored hiking destinations.
  • Slowing reductions in coal pollution from electricity generating plants, including toxic air pollutants like mercury and arsenic.
  • Stopping EPA from cutting pollutants from industrial boilers or steam generating units, from factories like paper companies and waste incinerators.
  • Creating hurdles for EPA to reduce pollutants from cement manufacturing, pollutants like hydrocarbons and toxic pollutants like mercury.

Polluters Empty their Coffers, Write a Wish List

Flickr, House GOP

So what’s the deal? Why does Mr. Cantor want to make this a priority.  He’ll say its about reducing regulations, and we’ll get to that in a moment, but a better place to start is by following the campaign cash.

Recent campaign contribution reports raise suspicious links between money and the announced agenda. Here are some telling campaign contributions tracked by the Center for Responsive Politics:

  • Oil and gas interests have donated $2.7 million to House members.  It as also heavily tilted, with 89 percent of the contributions going to Mr. Cantor’s Republicans.
  • Coal mining interests have donated $683,458 to House members this year, with 94 percent of those funds or $645,522 going to Mr. Cantor’s party.
  • Electric utility interests have donated nearly $2.5 million to House members in 2011. Seventy-one percent of those donations (nearly $1.8 million) went to Republicans and $718,056 to Democrats. Speaker of the House John Boehner (pictured) is the top recipient, receiving $139,000 in donations.
  • The campaign committee and leadership political action committee (PAC) for House Majority Leader Cantor received $275,000 in campaign cash from the energy and natural resources industry so far. That includes $66,950 from oil and gas interests, $102,400 from electric utilities and $50,094 from coal mining companies.

Clean Air Act is Cost Effective

Now let’s look at Mr. Cantor’s overt problem with clean air.  He says it costs money and jobs. Not that facts should get in they way of special interest politics, but lets review some of the information Mr. Cantor won’t.

  • Each dollar invested in clean air has brought in eight dollars in benefits, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget. Who wouldn’t like an eight to one return on their investment in today’s market?
  • The economic benefits of the Act outweigh the costs by 25 to one, according to a peer-reviewed study released in March 2011 by the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • The Center for American Progress says that many coal power plants already have the pollution controls installed or under construction to curb the toxic air pollutants that EPA is addressing.
  • The total benefits of 32 rules issued by EPA range from $81.8 to $550.7 billion, while the costs are only $23.3 to $28.5 billion. Clean air regulations are responsible for $77.3 to $535.1 billion of the total benefits and $19 to $24.1 billion of the costs.
  • A May 2011 Economic Policy Institute report, titled Tallying Up the Impact of New EPA Rules: Combined costs of Obama EPA rules represent a sliver of the economy and are far outweighed by cumulative benefits, found that the size of the potential compliance costs created by EPA rulemaking from 2009 to the present is not a significant factor in U.S. economic performance overall. For the nine rules already finalized, the value of the benefits exceeds the estimated costs by a sizable margin. The total estimated benefit of these final rules is roughly $44 billion to $148 billion a year, well in excess of their combined annual cost of $6.7 billion to $12.5 billion. Once these rules are fully implemented in 2014, their combined costs will amount to less than 0.1 percent of the economy.

Clean Air Act Saves Health, Lives

People vote, not special interests. And a steady stream of polls this year shows strong support for clean air protections.  Mr. Cantor isn’t likely to want to address public opinion though.

People support the Clean Air Act because it works. Since 1970, the Clean Air Act has cut pollution from power plants, other industrial facilities and vehicles. The most harmful air pollutants, called toxic or hazardous pollutants, from large sources like chemical plants, petroleum refineries and paper mills, have been reduced by nearly 70 percent. New cars today are over 90 percent less polluting than cars bought in 1970.

In 2010 alone, the Clean Air Act saved the lives of 160,000 adults and 230 infants. Clean Air Act protections also prevented 130,000 non-fatal heart attacks and 86,000 emergency room visits.

In 2010, the Clean Air Act amendments that Congress passed 2 decades earlier prevented 23,000 Americans from dying prematurely and avoided 1.7 million incidences of asthma attacks and aggravation of chronic asthma. Those amendments avoided 4.1 million lost work days and prevented thousands of hospital admissions for respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses.

Do Your Part

Let’s put a stop to this. Click here to take action now and send a message to Congress that it should keep it’s hand off of our Clean Air Act.