Delay in Smog Reductions Will Benefit Polluters And Hurt Americans' Health and Savings

The Environmental Protection Agency’s announced this week that it will delay new rules to reduce smog and other pollution. The new rules would make our air safer to breathe. Yet an article in today’s New York Times focuses only on what the new safety rules allegedly would cost polluters.

It says almost nothing about what the safeguards will save Americans. The new smog rule alone would help save up to $100 billion in health costs, according to the EPA’s analysis of the science.

Those savings represent more than just financial well being. They represent the difference between taking your child to school and taking your child to the ER for an asthma attack. They represent the difference between having money to invest in your family and spending your paycheck on health care bills. And for thousands of us, they literally represent the difference between life and death.

In fact, science tells us that stronger protections could help avoid up to 12,000 premature deaths every year.

But polluters would like you to believe it is all about them.

I have fought for decades to secure clean air protections, and I have seen this same pattern over and over again. Every time the government issues a new standard to protect public health, polluting industries claim it will lead to massive layoffs and bankruptcy.

They said it when they had to remove lead from gasoline in order to prevent developmental delays and lower IQ in children. They said it when they had to reduce acid rain pollution in order to prevent respiratory disease and cardiac arrest. And they said it when they had to remove CFCs in order to protect the ozone layer and reduce skin cancer rates.

And yet industry’s dire predictions never came true. The costs of complying with new safeguards have almost always been far less than anticipated, and they have never slowed growth. In the 40 years since the Clean Air Act was enacted, the American economy has grown by 70 percent.

There is ample evidence that we can cut pollution and prosper at the same time.  

And yet the myths persist. On Thursday, Senators Inhofe and Upton wrote a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson praising her for the delay and saying: “Republicans in the House and Senate are united in stopping EPA's job-killing regulations.”

There is no proof that that these are job-killing rules. But there is proof that the safeguards reduce people-killing pollution. Study after study has shown that smog interferes with the functioning of our respiratory and cardiac systems.

I suppose that dumping your garbage for free—in this case into people’s lungs—is cheaper than paying to have it carted away, but that doesn’t mean companies should be allowed to do it, especially if their waste causes serious illness and death.

Paying to prevent deadly harm seems like a reasonable cost of doing business to me.

Think of the food industry. It costs money for agricultural industries to inspect the food they produce. But would you really want to change that? Would you be willing to have batches of beef contaminated with e-coli sold to supermarkets in order to protect the profit margins of agribusiness?

I know I wouldn’t, and I feel the same about oil refineries and industrial facilities whose pollution shortens people’s lives and sends children to the emergency room.

The EPA says it will use the delay in order to do additional scientific analysis. There is no doubt the science supports the need for a fully protective standard.

Now we must wait and see if the agency follows what the science dictates instead of letting the polluters convince Congress to weaken the safeguards we need.