Who Could Be Against Clean Air?

The day before the mid-term elections this month I met a very conservative member of Congress who asked me what I did for a living. When I responded that I was a clean air advocate he replied, “Who could be against clean air?”


The very breath of life itself, clean air has been promised to the American people as a legal right by our landmark Clean Air Act since 1970. That very successful law is founded upon the principle that all areas of the country must achieve clean air quality, based on our best medical and scientific understanding of what air pollution levels are unsafe.

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Photo credit: allfr3d @ flickr.

That foundation is under attack today, however, by lobbyists for the oil industry and other polluters. They wish that air quality standards for smog pollution were based not on medicine and science but on politics and profits. These lobbyists would have the government deceive the public into believing unhealthy air is healthy while stripping Americans of the fundamental right to clean air.

The industry lobbyists face multiple dilemmas in their polluting crusade. First, a unanimous Supreme Court, in an opinion authored by Justice Scalia, has ruled that the definition of clean air under the Clean Air Act must be based on health considerations alone. Setting clean air standards may not be manipulated by weighing costs to industry or economic impacts. Important economic considerations are taken into account when meeting clean air standards, not by misrepresenting unsafe air quality as clean air become some lobbyists or economists deem it good-enough-for-government.

Second, EPA’s blue-ribbon panel of expert scientific advisors has declared unanimously – including all industry scientists represented – that smog standards today are unsafe and need to be strengthened to protect all Americans. That sentiment has been echoed by the American Lung Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Organizations and numerous other health groups.

Over 200 medical societies, public health groups, faith and other organizations urged EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in an ad this week to strengthen the smog standard to protect the nation's air quality and save thousands of lives every year.

Finally, these industry lobbyists inevitably will flounder before that sensible, logical question posed by the thoughtful, conservative member of Congress: “Who could be against clean air?”

No one should be, and Americans now count on EPA to give real world meaning to their right to clean air with a strengthened smog standard that will leave us all breathing easier.