Clean Air: Just What the Dr. Ordered

Public health and medical organizations are urging Congress to support the experts at the US Environmental Protection Agency who are working to update the safeguards that protect public health from pollution, and to resist pressure from polluters trying to stop them.

A letter signed by the American Lung Association, the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and nearly 300 other organizations outlined that while the EPA has been successful at protecting Americans' health, there is more to do:

Forty years ago, Congressional leaders from both parties wrote and passed the Clean Air Act.  This law directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect public health and the environment.  Since then this wise congressional legacy has saved lives and improved the quality of life for millions of Americans.

But the job is not yet done.  Far too many of our communities still suffer from poor air quality. Too many families, particularly those of lower income, face the impacts of toxic air pollution every day.  And far too many of our nation’s children, elderly, and people with asthma, cardiovascular and lung diseases and diabetes live under added threats to their health from breathing polluted air and the impacts of global warming.

And continues:

Over the coming years the EPA will be fulfilling its duty to reduce the smog and soot pollution, air toxics, and global warming pollution that are the cause of these public health threats.  We urge you to fully support the EPA in fulfilling this responsibility.  Doing so is quite literally a matter of life and death for tens of thousands of people and will mean the difference between chronic debilitating illness or a healthy life for hundreds of thousands more.

The groups also rolled out a new ad campaign for hill publications, reinforcing the central message of the letter. You can see the ad here. The pressure from health groups is in response to polluter efforts to halt creation of new air pollution safeguards.

As Charles D. Connor, President and CEO of the American Lung Association said, “We urge members of Congress to reject the pleas from polluters and continue to support the Act and the EPA’s ability to protect the air we breathe.”

Now, what exactly are the polluters trying to do? Persuade Congress that this is all just expensive, pointless rule-making that will cost the government money and kill jobs. The Edison Electric Institute has been presenting the new safeguards as a complicated and frightening parade of regulatory over-reach; but the World Resources Institute blew that to pieces with a powerful analysis that you can find here.

And the US Chamber of Commerce went the way of kindergartners with a knock-off of the game Candyland to show how awful protecting public health would be for business. And I've blogged on some of the other efforts by polluters to hold back the EPA.

Fortunately, our nation’s leading health organizations are reminding us what's at stake. As Cynthia Bearer, MD, PhD, Board Chair of the Children's Environmental Health Network says

"Children are especially vulnerable to harm from polluted air. Air pollutants have been linked to asthma attacks, infant mortality, and even DNA damage to the fetus. Dirty air can be, quite literally, a killer."

What's the bottom line? As O. Marion Burton, MD, FAAP and president of the American Academy of Pediatrics put it, 

"There is a compelling need to move forward, not back, on efforts to ensure clean air for all."

There you have it, Congress: Uphold the Clean Air Act. Doctors' orders.