Polluters Spend Millions Lobbying the Government to Lie to You About Whether the Air is Safe to Breathe

In my last two blog posts, I've explained falsehoods at the heart of an industry campaign opposing updated national health standards to limit smog air pollution. Now, stepping back from the falsehoods that make up that dirty air campaign, one of the startling realities about the multi-million-dollar lobbying and ad blitz is its bottom line: for the government to lie to Americans about whether the air is safe to breathe.


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Since 1970 the federal Clean Air Act has required EPA to set health standards for ground-level ozone air pollution, the primary component of smog. These standards must be requisite to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety, for vulnerable populations like children, the elderly and asthmatics.

The Clean Air Act and a unanimous Supreme Court decision make clear that these health standards must be based on medical science alone. They may not be tainted or weakened by taking into account compliance costs by industry to achieve clean air.

So first, these health standards should be understood to define clean air in the United States, scientifically and as a matter of law. The standards set the air quality level and legal mandate that all Clean Air Act cleanup efforts must achieve, to guarantee Americans the legal right to safe air.

The next crucial attributes of the health standards, in turn, are honesty and public transparency. The standards are meant to be the law's assurance of safe air for Americans based on medical science, not unsafe air compromised by politics and economics. The EPA Air Quality Index, with its familiar Code Orange and Code Red public warning system, is directly tied to the health standards. This enables the public to know whether air quality is safe enough to let children outside to play, or for adults to work, run or garden outside.

Economics can and do factor in to how best to reduce unhealthy air pollution levels using cost-effective measures. But the law is clear economics may not factor into where to set the health standard itself.

This is comparable to when you go to see a doctor and you expect a truthful diagnosis whether you have some disease. You and the doctor then may select among more or less cost-effective treatments for the honestly diagnosed condition. But you don't want the doctor to lie to you about the diagnosis because the insurance company does not want to pay for the treatment.

Enter the dirty air campaign by lobbyists for polluting industries and their political allies. This campaign is mounting an attack on safe air for all Americans with fear mongering and falsehoods concerning the compliance costs for industry to clean up its own air pollution.

The dirty air campaign's aim is to compel EPA and this administration to stick with the outdated 2008 smog health standards that are overwhelmingly considered unsafe and unprotective by EPA and the following organizations, among others:

  • American Medical Association;
  • American Academy of Pediatrics;
  • American College of Preventative Medicine;
  • American Heart Association;
  • American Lung Association;
  • American Public Health Association;
  • American Thoracic Society;
  • Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America;
  • Children's Environmental Health Network;
  • National Association of County and City Health Officials;
  • National Association for Medical Direction of Respiratory Care;
  • Health Care Without Harm;
  • Trust for America's Health; and
  • EPA's official, independent Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, chartered by Congress.

The dirty air campaign lacks the medical science and expertise to contradict these medical organizations and the vast body of scientific studies showing the current smog standard is unsafe. So the polluter campaign must resort to raw politics and multi-million dollar ads to pressure the government to lie to Americans and tell us that the air is safe under an unsafe, outdated standard.

The ads being run by the industry dirty air campaign do not and cannot say the current smog standard (that industry is fighting to retain) provides Americans with safe air. Look carefully and you will see the ads ignore altogether the question of unsafe air quality, as well as the vast medical consensus that today's smog standard is unsafe.

Here is the darkly comic manner in which an ad by the oil lobby ignores the reality of today's unsafe health standard, from one of my earlier blog posts:

The Petroleum Institute TV ad closes with this line about the current smog standards: "They work."

Note the ad never says--and cannot--say that the current smog standards are "safe." Or "protective." Or "healthy." (In fact, the ad seems to go out of its way to avoid making these claims, instead calling the standards "strict.") The ad does not and cannot say today's standard meets the Clean Air Act requirement to protect all Americans with an adequate safety margin.

Similarly, recent ads by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio never even bother to assert that the current smog standard is safe or protective. That is not their concern. Instead, the ads appeal to stick with the current standard by trafficking in the compliance cost fear mongering that NAM and the Petroleum Institute know to be blatantly illegal influences under the Clean Air Act and Supreme Court rulings.

For a multi-million dollar dirty air campaign founded on so many falsehoods, the ultimate falsehood is the worst: leading the government to lie to you about whether the air is safe to breathe.


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