L.A. Area Senior Citizens Testify Before Environmental Protection Agency: Weaker Air Protections Unacceptable To Protect Senior Citizens' Health

LOS ANGELES (April 28, 2003) -- Senior citizens and public health advocates attending an Environmental Protection Agency hearing at UCLA tomorrow will urge the Bush administration to drop plans to weaken clean air protections. The groups will criticize the administration for using a cost-benefit calculation that discounts senior citizens' lives as part of unprecedented rollbacks of Clean Air Act public health protections.

EPA officials are visiting Los Angeles as part of a six-city tour of "senior listening sessions" to gather information on environmental health hazards for older Americans. The listening session will take place from 1:30 to 3:30pm PDT at the Grand Horizon Room, 3rd Floor, Covel Commons, Sunset Village on the UCLA campus. Senior citizens and public health advocates will host a press conference at Covel Commons at 12:00 noon.

"EPA's job is to ensure that all Americans -- including seniors -- have safe, healthy air to breathe," said Evan Paul of Environment California. "Instead, it is weakening the rules to let polluters off the hook, and telling older Americans that their lives simply matter less. That's outrageous."

On December 31, 2002, EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman signed into law the first phase of the administration's rollback of the Clean Air Act's New Source Review Program. Weakening the law will allow nearly 1,300 facilities in California to increase their pollution.

The brunt of this burden will be borne by senior citizens. Fine particle soot and ground-level ozone -- smog -- attack the cardiopulmonary system, reducing lung and heart function for even the most robust Americans. For senior citizens who often have weakened respiratory and circulatory systems, breathing air contaminated with soot and smog can be deadly.

"At these sessions, EPA needs to hear that seniors suffer from increased rates of serious illnesses and death from polluted air," said Gail Ruderman Feuer of NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). "Our parents' and grandparents' lives should not be valued any less than our own." The four most frequent causes of death in people aged 65 and over -- heart disease, cancer, stroke and chronic lung disease -- all have been linked to exposure to air pollution, Feuer added.

Air pollution-related health problems not only are harmful for seniors, they're expensive. Today senior citizens spend roughly 11 percent of their total expenditures on health care -- more than double the 5 percent younger Americans spend. All Americans paid nearly $248 billion in direct medical costs to treat heart disease, stroke and chronic lung diseases last year, and those diseases resulted in another $49 billion in lost productivity.

Given the severe health and economic consequences of air pollution for seniors, senior citizen and clean air advocates say that it is unjustifiable that the EPA is advancing policies that will increase air pollution. A key example, according to the advocates, is the EPA's recently proposed change to the New Source Review program. Under these changes, 17,000 refineries, chemical plants, pulp and paper mills, and power plants will be allowed to pollute more without installing modern-day pollution control technologies. The advocates also cited the Bush administration's so-called "Clear Skies" initiative, which would allow power plants to emit more smog- and soot-forming pollution, as well as more mercury, over a longer period of time than permitted under current law.

Environment California and NRDC pointed to the EPA's use of a twisted cost-benefit methodology when evaluating whether a given public health protection is worthwhile. This "alternative" formula assumes the life of a person 65 years of age or older is worth as little as 63 percent of that of a younger person. The new cost-benefit assumptions were proposed by the White House's Office of Management and Budget and were included in the justification for reducing public health protections in the administration's air pollution bill introduced in Congress last month. The bill proposed to exempt power plants, the largest industrial source of air pollution, from key Clean Air Act requirements, and would delay the dates when areas would be required to come into attainment with national air quality standards. (For more information on this issue, click here.)

"It's unconscionable to relax public health protections using a calculation that a senior citizen's life is worth 63 percent of a younger American's," said Jim Dawson of the Gray Panthers. "The Bush administration's fuzzy math adds up to a giveaway to polluting industries in the form of weaker environmental protections for all Americans."

Environment California, NRDC, Gray Panthers and a number of other environmental and seniors organizations urged the EPA to drop its proposed changes to the NSR rules, publicly renounce the agency's support for the president's air pollution plan, and reverse its practice of discounting the lives of seniors and other air pollution victims.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 550,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Environment California, the new home of CALPIRG's environmental work, draws on 30 years of experience in tackling our state's worst environmental problems. Our professional staff combines independent research, practical ideas and tough-minded advocacy to overcome the opposition of powerful special interests and win real results for California's environment. CALPIRG, the California Public Interest Research Group, is part of a network of state-based public interest advocacy groups. More information is available through our website.

Gray Panthers is an intergenerational advocacy organization. Our issues include universal health care, jobs with a living wage and the right to organize, preservation of Social Security, affordable housing, access to quality education, economic justice, environment, peace and challenging ageism, sexism, racism.

Related NRDC Pages
April 1, 2003, Cheapening the Value Of Life: The Bush Administration's Death Discount