Senate Republicans have opened a new front in the war against public health and environmental safeguards. They released a so-called jobs plan that calls for removing standards that protect Americans from smog, arsenic, lead, mercury, and other hazardous pollutants.
What the proposal shows is that Republican leaders have no jobs plan—just a repackaging of anti-government screeds. Like the Tea-Party inspired plan released last month by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, it amounts to an effort to reverse 40 years of bipartisan progress in making our air and water safer.
It is driven by ideology, not economics: There is no evidence that dismantling four decades of environmental protections will lead to more jobs.
President Obama summed up the Senate GOP’s proposal this week when he said: “The Republican plan says that what’s standing between us and full employment is that we’re preventing companies from polluting our air and our water too much…You can’t pretend that creating dirtier air and water for our kids….is a jobs plan.”
GOP lawmakers would have us believe that millions of Americans are out of work not because of the mortgage meltdown or European debt crisis but because of two environmental laws: the Clean Water Act, which was passed in 1972, and the Clean Air Act, which President Nixon signed in 1970 and President Bush signed in 1990.
These laws have dramatically improved Americans’ lives. In the 1970s, the air in Los Angeles hit unhealthy levels of pollution more than 200 days a year. By 2003, the number dropped to 28 days. Forty years ago, nearly 90 percent of American children had lead in their blood at levels higher than the Center for Disease Control deemed safe. Today, only 2 percent of children do.
These and countless other improvement are a direct result of the Clean Air Act. In 2010 alone, it prevented more than 200,000 premature deaths and 18 million child respiratory illnesses, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
This is remarkable progress, but GOP leaders want to take it away. In their indiscriminate anti-government fervor, they believe the EPA has no business regulating pollution. Their Senate plan would alter fundamentals aspects of laws that have been on the books for decades in a Tea Party inspired effort to make it almost impossible to issue new safeguards.
This is not what the American people want. In a survey conducted in October by Public Policy Polling commissioned by NRDC found that 78 percent of Americans want the EPA to hold polluters accountable for what they release into the community.
Cleaning up the environment creates jobs. New smokestack scrubbers, new catalytic converters, new particulate filters on diesel engines—all these things have to be designed and installed by workers.
Reducing tailpipe emissions from cars and trucks, for instance, employs about 65,000 Americans and the industry generates annual domestic sales of $26 billion. The entire environmental technology industry generated 3.2 million jobs by 2002, and the number keeps growing. The EPA estimates that the proposed standard to reduce mercury, lead, and other heavy metals from power plants—which GOP lawmakers voted to block—will create up to 31,000 short-term construction jobs and 9,000 long-term utility jobs.
Protecting families from the pollutants that cause asthma, neurological disorders, cardiac disease, and premature death has put millions of Americans to work. We can create even more jobs by making our air and water even safer and investing in the clean energy systems that will take our country into the 21st century.
Now is the time to invest in Americans’ health and future, not give handouts to polluters.