Dirty Air Campaign Opposing Safe Air for Americans Founded on Falsehoods

Thumbnail image for Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 1.29.15 PM.png

Lobbyists for polluting industry and their political allies are increasingly resorting to misrepresentation and fear mongering to oppose national health standards that deliver on the law's guarantee of safe air for all Americans. I follow yesterday's post by continuing to examine the series of recurring falsehoods that comprise this dirty air campaign.

Misrepresenting Industry Compliance Costs. The dirty air campaign's leading complaint is that the compliance costs to reduce industry's own air pollution is excessive. These complaints invariably lead back to a single, discredited report bought by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). Independent economists have rightly characterized this report as "insane" and "unmoored from any economic reality."

One central reason for that insanity is the NAM report assumes future smog compliance costs 1,000 times higher than actual cleanup costs today: $500,000 to reduce a single ton of nitrogen oxides (NOx) pollution in NAM's made-up world, versus $500 today to reduce one ton of NOx from power plants, for example. The report imagines these insanely exaggerated costs by choosing to draw an analogy to a short-lived 2009 economic stimulus program called Cash for Clunkers that was designed to assist Detroit automakers during the recession--not serve as a cost-effective smog control program. In fact no one ever treated the stimulus program as a smog program.

Nonetheless, the NAM report resorts to assuming these hyper-inflated costs based on a cartoonish world where states and municipalities would turn to "Cash for Clunkers" as their preferred control strategy, in order to reduce smog-forming air pollution rationally and cost-effectively. Indeed, the NAM report compounds this insanity by assuming that an economic stimulus program for vehicle turn-ins will set the future control costs for all smog-polluting activities across the U.S. economy, not just for vehicles but for industrial facilities and consumer products and any other regulated combustion activity.

Back in the real world, proven ozone control technologies and measures in use today will be the very first ones deployed by jurisdictions newly declared to be out of compliance with a safer standard. These measures are cost-effective and any rational regulator or regulated entity is going to take advantage of them. NAM's cost claims don't pass the red face test.

Misrepresenting Impact of Safer Air Standards. A second favored falsehood from the dirty air campaign is to pretend that the air quality in the nation's national parks is "pristine" today. Industry then argues that safer smog health standards must be irrational if even some national parks won't meet the safer standard.

The only problem with this sleight of hand by the dirty air campaign is it's founded on several falsehoods. First, it counts on people being unaware that the air quality in many national parks is not "pristine" even today. In fact, the very same week that NAM rolled out deceptive TV ads assuring viewers that air quality is terrific in the national parks, the non-profit National Parks and Conservation Association (NPCA) released a report showing that fully 75% of our nation's parks experience air that even by current, outdated measures, is considered "unsafe." Some of our nation's most visited and loved parks, including Yosemite, Joshua Tree and Sequoia, all earned failing grades in the NPCA report. And that's under the national health standard for ozone, 75 ppb, that NAM and the dirty air campaign are fighting for EPA to retain--despite agreement by the nation's leading medical groups that this standard is outdated and unsafe.

Second, NAM and their fellow campaigners fail to mention that many national parks already suffer from significant air pollution caused by nearby power plants, oil and gas drilling operations and other industrial activities. Industrial pollution harms air quality in too many national parks already. Not only does this pollution damage the delicate ecosystems of the parks, but it also has serious health consequences for visitors to some of our nation's most treasured places.

Finally, it is well understand that the industrial air pollutants that form smog pollution, like nitrogen oxides, travel many hundreds of miles. For several decades the Clean Air Act has contained cleanup programs targeting industrial air pollution transported hundreds of miles across state borders to pollute distant downwind areas. See here, here and here. Indeed, some of the corporations taking part in the dirty air campaign fought these programs in court, so ignoring air pollution transport now to push a false narrative is particularly cynical.

The dirty air campaign is counting on people having an image of national parks as isolated islands, with idyllic air quality untouched by air pollution from industry or motor vehicles. Unfortunately that is not the reality today, and the dirty air campaign is just resorting to one more falsehood.

Misrepresenting Economic Growth. The National Association of Manufacturers has contributed another falsehood to the dirty air campaign with a hashtag it created for Twitter, #NoGrowZone. Get it? #NoGrowZone, NoOzone? Boundless creativity.

A NAM vice president even went so far as to testify in Congress that areas not meeting safer smog health standards are synonymous with no economic growth due to the burden of industry needing to clean up its own air pollution.

The only problem with the NAM claim, as I addressed in a previous post, is again that it is completely and unequivocally false. Contrary to NAM's "no growth" claim, 7 of the 10 fastest growing state economies in recent years already have ozone nonattainment areas. Failing to meet smog health standards and taking responsible cleanup steps has not stopped those states from growing their economies.

Indeed, since 1970 the U.S. has reduced dangerous air pollution on average by 68% while the economy has grown by over 240%.

So the industry campaign's #NoGrowZone meme is just as false as the compliance cost, job loss and national park misrepresentations that populate the playbook of their deceptive campaign.

* * * * * *

The industry campaign cannot counter the nation's leading medical organizations and the vast body of medical science that agree today's smog health standard is unsafe, and that support updating the standard to protect all Americans. So industry basically doesn't even try.

The polluter campaign also realizes a unanimous Supreme Court and the Clean Air Act prohibit considering industry compliance costs when setting health standards that tell Americans the truth about whether the air is safe to breathe. That realization doesn't stop them from ignoring the law and urging EPA to break the law, however, with an economic lobbying campaign rooted in naked lawlessness.

So when the opponents of safe air for Americans don't have science on their side, and don't have the law on their side, what are they left with? It really says it all that their own answer to that question is a dirty air campaign founded on serial falsehoods.