Separating Fact from Fiction: Representative Tim Holden's Record of Dirty Air Votes

Pennsylvania Congressman Tim Holden (PA-17) has voted against clean and safe air four times this year, each time increasing the health risks to kids, who are among the most vulnerable to the effects of dangerous air pollution. There are 260,000 kids in Pennsylvania who have asthma – a dangerous condition well-known to be worsened by air pollution.

That’s why NRDC has launched a two-week tv ad campaign to make sure Holden’s constituents know what he’s up to in DC.


But the Representative appears to be in a state of denial. PoliticsPA reports that:

Holden told PoliticsPA that he did not vote to repeal any existing anti-pollution regulations but rather to slow them down in an economy that’s recovering.  

It is worth noting that Pennsylvanians don’t buy the line that EPA safeguards are bad for jobs and the economy, according to a new poll by Public Policy Polling. After hearing arguments against the policies and the arguments of health experts in favor of them, 73% of Pennsylvanians asked say they oppose Congress’ efforts to overrule the strengthening of clean air safeguards.

But more important, it is worth noting that Holden’s claim is simply untrue. (For the record, so is his characterization of what our ad actually says. We say he voted to let polluters dump more dangerous pollution into the air, not that he voted to repeal anything.)

During 2011 alone, Representative Holden has supported four separate bills whose combined effects are to undo key clean air safeguards that could prevent tens of thousands of early deaths and asthma attacks due to air pollution, as well as to permanently weaken the Clean Air Act and the EPA’s ability to implement it.

In fact, he voted for the final form of one of these deadly bills yesterday – shortly after giving comment to PoliticsPA on our ad. Last night the US House passed a bill that repeals US Environmental Protection Agency standards against dangerous and toxic air pollution from industrial boilers – including mercury, a brain poison well-documented as posing the greatest danger to young and unborn children. So Representative Holden voted to repeal four existing anti-pollution regulations (all combined in one single bill) on the very same day that his spokesperson was denying publicly that he voted to repeal such safeguards.

But Holden’s record is longer than that one bill. Here’s his rap sheet for 2011, starting with  the bill I just described:

  • October: Holden votes to prevent cleanup of toxic pollution from incinerators and industrial boilers. Holden voted for H.R. 2250, which repeals and weakens Clean Air Act safeguards slated to reduce mercury, toxic metals, acid gases and other hazardous air pollution from incinerators and other industrial polluters. The bill Holden supported also repeals Clean Air Act compliance deadlines for these life-saving standards, meaning companies’ compliance with any future toxic air pollution standards could be delayed indefinitely.. .See more details here.

    Health impact: Up to 22,750 deaths, during just the bill’s minimum period blocking safeguards. 

  • October: Holden Voted for the TRAIN Act, Which Would Block Life- Saving Clean Air Act Standards For Power Plants. This bill would repeal or block two critical Clean Air Act standards (Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants and the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule) that limit soot, smog, mercury and other toxic pollutants like arsenic, dioxin, and formaldehyde from power plants.  The bills eliminate any actual deadlines for EPA to re-issue health standards, allowing these life-saving standards to be blocked indefinitely– effectively repealing clean air safeguards that would prevent thousands of deaths and illnesses. Finally, the bills eviscerate the legal authority for EPA to re-issue protective standards.

    Health impact: 139,500 deaths, 66,000 hospital visits, and 1 million asthma attacks over the next seven years – and over 25,000 additional deaths every year after.

  • February: Holden voted to block EPA from cleaning up cement plants. Holden voted for an amendment that would prevent EPA from using any funds to implement standards that are already on the books to control smog, soot, mercury and other toxic air pollution emitted by cement plants—some of the worst industrial polluters of any kind.

    These plants dump mercury pollution and other hazardous air pollutants into the air we breathe and the water we drink.   Cement plants are also a significant source of nitrogen oxide pollution, which are associated with a variety of health problems and adversely affect people with lung diseases such as asthma.

    Rep Holden claims he’s just trying to “slow-down” health protections, but its hard to see how he justifies this considering the amendment’s own sponsor, Texas Rep John Carter, described the measure this way: “Carter’s Amendment 165 blocking proposed new rules against the Portland cement industry.”

    Health impact: 2,500 lives per year.

  • February: Holden voted to block the EPA from updating clean air standards and to protect public health from carbon pollution.  Holden voted for H.R. 910, which would gut the Clean Air Act and completely block work already underway by the EPA to set standards for carbon pollution that will clean up our air, make cars go further on a gallon of gas and protect public health. According to a letter from leading health groups including the American Lung Association and the American Public Health Association, “[t]his legislation would interfere with EPA’s ability to implement the Clean Air Act; a law that protects the public health and reduces health care costs for all by preventing thousands of adverse health outcomes, including: cancer, asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes, emergency department visits, hospitalization and premature deaths. … H.R. 910 would strip away sensible Clean Air Act protections that safeguard Americans and their families from air pollution.” 

    Health impact: Incalculable.

This voting record makes abundantly clear how wrong Holden is to now claim that “he did not vote to repeal any existing anti-pollution regulations.” Which only makes it more shocking and reckless that he evidently did not understand what all of these destructive bills actually did before voting for them anyway.

Holden also told PoliticsPA that:

“I don’t deserve to have pictures of children, innocent children, with masks on like we’re hurting their health.”

Actually Mr. Congressman . . . you do . . . and you are.