GOP Lawmakers in the House Take Away More Safeguards that Protect Americans' Health

House Republican leaders promised a season of destruction, and they are keeping their word. Following the pro-polluter plan laid out by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, they remain bent on blocking one public health and environmental safeguard after another.

This week they are attacking the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to reduce pollution from incinerators and industrial boilers—two major sources of dioxins, mercury, arsenic, and lead.

My first job out of college was testing children for lead poisoning. We knew back then that lead could lower IQ levels and cause other developmental delays. Mercury is a similarly potent neurotoxin that poses a particular threat to fetuses and newborns. Dioxin and arsenic, meanwhile, are known to cause cancer.

I don’t know one parent who would risk exposing their children to these dangers. Yet if the House leadership has its way, all Americans will remain more vulnerable than they have to be to these and other pollutants.

Since Republicans took leadership of the House, they have held nearly 160 votes against environmental safeguards. They are particularly enflamed by the Clean Air Act, a law that has prevented more than 4,300,000 premature deaths since 1990, according to the EPA. It has also prevented 17,850,000 asthma attacks and 14,154,000 cases of chronic bronchitis since 1990.

This is remarkable progress, built on a system that has succeeded through Republican and Democratic administrations alike. Yet today’s Tea-Party-inspired GOP lawmakers want to turn back the clock. In their anti-government fervor, they would erode past gains and prevent new advances in public health.

If their rhetoric becomes reality, real Americans will suffer—especially those whose parents have respiratory disorders, whose spouses struggle with cardiac disease, or whose kids are among the 7 million children living with asthma.

And yet the assault continues.

This week GOP leaders in the House will also be trying to prevent the EPA from requiring power plants to clean up coal ash, the waste left over after burning coal. This toxic brew flooded 12 homes and upended hundreds of lives when a coal ash pond ruptured at a Tennessee plant in 2008. That is just one example. More than 1,300 similar landfills and ponds exist around the nation, most of them unregulated. EPA scientists identified 67 coal and oil ash dump sites that have already contaminated groundwater and wells.

Instead of calling on plants to safely deal with their waste, GOP leaders would expose Americans to this danger and pass the cost of the next disaster on to ratepayers. 

These attacks on public health come fast on the heels of last week’s efforts to dismantle other protections.  The House voted to block the EPA from reducing pollution from cement kilns—one of the biggest sources of mercury in the nation.

And a few weeks before that, they passed the TRAIN Act. This bill would not only repeal protections against mercury and soot from power plants. It would also rewrite the Clean Air Act to require the EPA to put polluters’ cost complaints above health and science concerns when drafting new safeguards.

The good news is that many elected officials are standing up for the health of our families. Most Democrats have voted against these attacks on environmental safeguards, and the White House has issued several veto threats, including on the TRAIN Act and toxic cleanup standards for cement plants, incinerators, and industrial boilers. 

Eleven Republicans voted against the worst of the amendments to the TRAIN Act, although only four opposed passage of the bill. Perhaps these lawmakers recall that President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act in 1970, and that when President George H.W. Bush strengthened it in 1990, the amendments were passed by 89 senators and 410 representatives. Those amendments required the same air pollution cleanup standards that the Tea-Party-driven House is now voting to eliminate.

More Members of Congress--from both sides of the aisle—must fight to preserve the progress these past leaders set in motion. For surely they know that asthma, respiratory disease, and cancer do not observe party lines.

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