What is the Conservative Solution to Pollution?

When it comes to health and environmental protections, House Republicans seem content to remain the "Party of No."

In just the first week of the 112th Congress, they have rolled out bills and a resolution to block or dismantle standards to reduce harmful air pollution.

Even setting aside carbon dioxide pollution that some members believe (erroneously) to be unharmful, the regulatory assaults by House Republicans are targeting pollutants that just about everyone agrees are a problem – mercury, lead, arsenic, smog, sulfur dioxide, soot pollution [pdf].

And to make matters worse, these members have offered not so much as a hint about what they support as alternative solutions. The alternative just seems to be continued exposure to known hazardous pollutants.

Prominent Republican figures from Karl Rove to Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) have cautioned Republican politicians against being the Party of No.

So where is the Republican Party of Yes that the country needs when public health, safety and environmental protections are concerned?

What are the conservative solutions to all of our pollution problems?

None are being offered so far; instead some conservative Republicans in both chambers cling insistently to the Party of No title.

Congressional conservatives wasted no time during their first few days in power in the 112th Congress seeking to eradicate EPA's ability to use existing legal solutions to many of these problems.

But they are not content to stop there. From Rand Paul (R-KY) and Jim DeMint (R-SC) in the Senate to Don Young (R-AK) in the House, conservatives have vowed to dismantle not just EPA’s responsibilities but all agencies’ legal obligations with sweeping and reckless legislation to block virtually all health, safety and environmental protections. (I will address these radical regulatory "reform" bills in a future post, but for now Professor Sidney Shapiro at Wake Forest University School of Law compellingly critiques one of the representative radical bills here [pdf] and here.)

The chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), and the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), have joined forces to condemn EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson's plans to provide the American people with stronger protections against smog pollution. Administrator Jackson proposed [pdf] clean air standards that will be consistent with the unanimous recommendations of EPA's outside science advisors -- advisors serving during the Bush administration, no less.

These two conservative politicians do not challenge the science supporting the need for more protective clean air standards; indeed they ignore the science -- and the law -- altogether. (Worse, they actively defy the law by making the primary thrust of their attack the consideration of economic impacts when setting health-based clean air standards, something that a unanimous Supreme Court has ruled squarely illegal in a decision authored by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.)

What Representative Upton and Senator Inhofe do know is No; their missive to Administrator Jackson makes clear that no strengthening of the smog pollution standards is the only outcome that will satisfy their political wishes.

None of these various attacks and threats by Congressional conservatives have been accompanied by alternative solutions to our serious health, safety and environmental problems -- apart from the alternative of letting the problems go unaddressed, fester, continue to hurt people and leave polluters unaccountable.

What bills or other solutions have Congressional conservatives sponsored or backed -- with a meaningful commitment -- to address these health, safety and environmental problems?

We know that some conservative politicians deny the reality of climate disruption and repudiate any responsibility to avert catastrophe. (That is not universally true, thankfully, with some conservatives expressing understanding, concern and commitment.)

But do these Keep-Saying-No conservative politicians really deny the reality of cancer-causing air pollution and water pollution? The brain poisons mercury and lead? Choking smog pollution? Deadly soot pollution?

Do conservative politicians really disclaim responsibility to reduce these pollutants to safe levels for children, the elderly, all Americans?

Do members of Congress seriously know better than doctors and nurses and scientists that these pollutants are in fact not problems? That we're better off doing nothing, always saying No?

There is invariably a learning curve with environmental science and the health standards that EPA carries out in accordance with laws like the Clean Air Act. So EPA officials have been on Capitol Hill briefing Congressional staff about the agency’s efforts and making themselves available to supply information and answer questions.

But this blurb from yesterday's Morning Energy column in Politico makes clear the House Republican lack of interest in that opportunity for dialogue and greater understanding:

EPA’s top brass is launching an outreach campaign on Capitol Hill as the GOP calls for scaling back the administration’s environmental policies. [EPA air chief Gina] McCarthy briefed House Democratic staffers on EPA's upcoming regulations yesterday. GOP staffers were invited, but didn’t express interest, according to an EPA official.

It’s easier for EPA to remain a cartoonish villain – the “scariest agency in the federal government,” according to the bogeyman hyperbole of one senior House Republican -- and its standards alleged “job-killing” monstrosities if conservative politicians and their staff remain uninformed about the facts and the clear legal basis and need for important health safeguards.

Conservative politicians have a lot of beefs with our clean air, clean water and other environmental laws, but when it comes to their actual solutions, where's the beef?

On these vital issues of public health and environmental safeguards, the American people need and deserve more from their elected leaders than a constant posture of No.