Gingrich Calls for Abolishing EPA

Update: I changed the headline for this blog after seeing AP's story independently confirmed Gingrich wants to eliminate the EPA.

Politico reports that former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich

"called for abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency in a Tuesday speech in Iowa."

According to Politico's story "Newt Gingrich proposes abolishing EPA," Gingrich's wants to do away with using "regulation" to make sure that public health is protected from pollution and instead "encourage innovation."

I'm sure that makes encouraging background noise for members of Congress who are leading the charge to prevent EPA from doing its job to protect public health, like House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton, who is on record opposing several updates to the Clean Air Act that would save lives and prevent severe illnesses.

In fact, since becoming Chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Fred Upton has been marking out a clear agenda bent on blocking important updates to Clean Air Act standards that would protect Americans’ health from a broad range of air pollutants. As Politico reported last week, key staffers from Upton’s office convened a meeting with a who’s-who of polluter lobbyists and industry reps to discuss “strategy to handcuff” the EPA’s plans to update the Clean Air Act, including a mutual commitment to support each other in blocking the EPA from doing its job of protecting public health: 

“The feedback we got was ‘hey, great, go for it guys,’” one Republican aide told POLITICO. “And we pretty strongly told them we do need your help to get this done. And when we walked away from the meeting the feeling was we got that.”

And a memo issued by Upton's committee on January 18, 2011 made clear that a lot of EPA's efforts to protect public health are on the chopping block. Starting with the Committee's top environmental priority, which it calls the “EPA Regulatory Chokehold.” Of course, it takes aim at EPA plans to put first-time limits on carbon pollution. But it also goes a lot broader, saying

"For EPA’s other multi-billion dollar Clean Air Act rules, we believe the agency has been regulating “too much too fast...”

The memo doesn't name the other rules it refers to, but I can list some that EPA is working on:

  • There's the update to smog standards so that fewer kids are exposed to toxic ozone pollution and have to be rushed to the hospital as they choke for breath, and save 12,000 lives per year.
  • There are the updates to safeguards our health from cement kilns and industrial sources of toxic pollution, including mercury which damages the developing brains of babies and chidren, and a variety of cancer-causing toxins.
  • EPA updates will also reduce the amount of particulate matter emitted from a range of sources. Particulate penetrate deep into the lungs and bring toxins along for the ride, contributing to thousands of premature deaths each year plus making it easier for other kinds of illnesses to take root deep inside the body.

Its hard to imagine anyone who breathes feeling ok with the idea of leaving these kinds of reductions to the goodwill of polluters and the "encouragement" of Newt's new agency. Just being the source of pollution that causes thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of respiratory illnesses a year should be all the encouragement industry needs, but it obviously isn't.

No one really believes that polluters will just clean up all by themselves. People understand that you have to set standards that will protect public health and make sure polluters stick to them. That's why since its founding, the EPA's approach of setting standards and holding polluters accountable has prevented:

  • 205,000 premature deaths
  • 672,000 cases of chronic bronchitis
  • 21,000 cases of heart disease
  • 843,000 asthma attacks
  • 189,000 cardiovascular hospitalizations
  • 18 million child respiratory illnesses.

Those deaths weren't prevented, those illnesses weren't averted and those kids weren't saved because the EPA went door to door to polluters and said "Pretty please won't you clean up." Lives are saved and health improved when we let the experts at the agency responsible for making sure our air and water are clean and safe set the standards and then hold polluters accountable. That's how the EPA cut air pollution in the US by 60% since 1970.

About the Authors

Pete Altman

Director, Climate & Clean Air Campaign, Climate & Energy program

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