Tomorrow the Senate will vote on the most anti-environmental bill to come before Congress in the last 40 years. While most of the media has been focused on whether this bill will cut .42% or .43% of the nation’s debt, the true impact of the bill is much greater. The fact is that H.R.1, the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011, is full of policy riders that are stealth attacks on basic American values that put those laws into effect.
This bill thoroughly guts the Clean Air Act and all but dismantles the Environmental Protection Agency. It includes both arbitrary, destructive cuts of up 60% for the EPA’s FY2011 budget (30% cuts for the remaining 6 months of the year = 60%), and 19 different industry requested policy riders to prevent EPA from enforcing its legal obligations to protect public health from air toxics, water pollution and to carry out the laws previous Congresses have required EPA to do.
For a budget that is supposed to be about saving Americans money, it’s odd that those who voted for this bill did not take into account how much this budget will cost Americans. Over the last 40 years the Clean Air Act has provided anywhere from $6 to $50 trillion in health and economic benefits to the public, according to a recent EPA study. If the Senate passes H.R. 1, those benefits are going be eroded as American families pay more to address the rising costs of health and pollution harms. I say families because it’s important to note that under this budget industrial polluters won’t be the ones to bare those costs; they will be externalizing their costs on the public health and our environment. We said no to this policy many years ago, it is not the time to go back to the dawn of the industrial revolution. One amendment, discussed by my colleague Roland Hwang would even make us more dependent on foreign oil!
One of the best examples of how the bill would hurt everyday Americans, while allowing industry to continue dumping poison into our air was the Carter Amendment, #165, which would deny any funds to EPA to “implement, administer or enforce” standards to reduce mercury, arsenic, lead, PCBs, dioxins and furans, and heavy metals from cement plants.
Mercury and lead both are dangerous neurotoxins – brain poisons – that harm the developing brains of children and fetuses. Dioxins are known human carcinogens linked to birth defects, reproductive abnormalities, and lung and breast cancer. Arsenic is a known human carcinogen linked to lung and kidney cancer and PCBs are probable human carcinogens linked to liver cancer. EPA projects that starting in 2013 and every year thereafter, the standards would avoid: up to 2,500 premature deaths; 1,500 heart attacks; 17,000 cases of aggravated asthma; 32,000 cases of upper and lower respiratory symptoms; and 130,000 days when people would have missed miss work.
Now the cost of cleaning up these pollutants will be several hundred million dollars to the cement industry, but EPA has found that the benefits to the American public will be anywhere from approximately $6.5 billion to $17 billion. Put another way, H.R. 1, with the inclusion of the Carter Amendment just passed on up to $17 billion in health and pollution costs to the American public so that the cement industry could avoid having to clean up the poisons they release into the air. Is that fair? Does that keep in line with our American values? Will Senators follow their House colleagues’ lead and vote for a bill that will further harm the American public? If they are listening to their constituents, then they shouldn’t.
According to recent nationwide polling and to nobody’s surprise, 63% of Americans want the EPA to do more not less. Additionally, 77% of Americans want Congress to allow EPA to do its job and not block updates to pollution regulations.
There are many members of the Senate, including Republicans, who profess to support a healthy environment. It is not possible to do so while voting for a bill that would cripple the nation’s ability to update environmental standards based on the latest available science or even enforce the environmental laws now on the books. Turning over environmental standards to the K Street lobbyists work work for our most polluting industries is a serious mistake that will not go unnoticed.