Latest Congressional Attacks on Clean Air Will Endanger Our Health and Our Economy

On Thursday Representative Fred Upton and Senator Inhofe introduced legislation to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s from limiting emissions of carbon dioxide.

This is the latest attack in the war against standards that protect Americans from dangerous air pollution. The GOP leadership in the House of Representatives is also trying to use the budget process and policy riders to prevent the EPA from updating safeguards for a list of toxic pollutants.

These attacks are bad for our health and bad for the economy.

Taken together, they would increase the pollution that causes climate change and triggers asthma attacks, respiratory illness, and premature deaths. And they would hobble American efforts to compete in the global energy marketplace.

Peeling away public health protections would make life easier for polluters, but it won’t benefit the American way of life.

I recently traveled to Beijing, and arriving at the state-of-the art airport and riding on high-speed trains, I experienced the 21st Century China. But whenever I looked out the window, I saw where China lags behind: air pollution. The smog was so thick it shrouded the tops of skyscrapers and even the runway where my plane landed. The sun appeared only as a murky globe hidden behind the haze. I didn’t see blue sky for 10 days.

It is no accident that the skies in America are cleaner than they are in China. In 1970, President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act, and in 1990 President Bush made the law even stronger, creating four decades of continuous improvements in reducing pollution.

The entire U.S. Congress should get on a plane to Beijing. As soon as they see the smog hanging the air, they will realize that undermining the Clean Air Act will take America back to dirtier, darker days. Now is the time to preserve the tools that protect our families from deadly toxins and that save our economy billions of dollars every year.

According to a new peer-reviewed report released by the EPA, the Clean Air Act has saved more than 160,000 American lives since 1990. By 2020, that number will rise to 230,000 lives saved. The benefits of improving our air quality exceeded the costs by a ratio of 26 to 1.

NRDC economist Laurie Johnson found that by 2010, the law generated about $1.3 trillion in public health and environmental benefits for a cost of $50 billion. That’s a value worth more than 9 percent of GDP, for a cost of only .4 percent of GDP.

The American economy is sophisticated enough to grow and be clean at the same time. We don’t have to endure lung disease and intensified climate change in order to prosper.

Americans know this to be true. Poll after poll shows that voters oppose GOP attacks on the Clean Air Act. According to a poll conducted by Public Policy Polling, nearly 6 out of 10 Americans – including 55 percent of Independents and 48 percent of Republicans – don’t approve of the recent House vote to “block the EPA from limiting carbon dioxide pollution.”

Even the majority of Representative Upton’s own constituents don’t approve of his proposed legislation. NRDC’s February 20011 survey conducted in Upton’s congressional district found that 62 percent of his constituents oppose his bill. Sixty-seven percent -- including 60 percent of Republicans – agreed with the statement that “Congress should let the EPA do its job.”

The GOP is out of step with Americans. People don’t want to take their children to the emergency room for asthma attacks. They don’t want to pay higher medical bills or lose more jobs to China’s booming low-carbon energy market.

NRDC will be calling on lawmakers of all parties to listen to what Americans want and to protect the safeguards that can deliver it.