We’re reeling from the president’s perplexing, dismaying, incomprehensible, indefensible – pick your position on the spectrum of bad to worse adjectives with which environmentalists have responded – decision not to ramp up ozone regulation. But we would be wise not to see President Obama’s record as completely dismal–and give up. There’s a serious amount of work to do this fall to support EPA funding, and other critical air pollution regulations. They have an enormous impact on our children’s health.
Final regulations for cross-state air pollution, for instance, were issued in July–to go into effect in January 2012. They are now causing a furor in Texas, one of the 27 states that will be affected by the new regulation. This ruling applies only to coal-fired power plants, just like the ones affected by the new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. Opponents of air pollution regulations will only be emboldened by the President’s recent ozone decision.
The cross-state air pollution rule, so named because it regulates emissions that come out of one state, but pollute across state lines, targets nitrogen dioxide, a precursor of ozone (neatly wrapping in at least one major source of ozone pollution, though it doesn’t help with emissions from cars, trucks, and other sources of ozone.)
The rule also targets sulfur dioxide, which damages lungs. Sulfur dioxide contributes to acid formation in the atmosphere, and rains down on our water bodies and contaminates our food. It contributes to neurological, developmental disorders. The cross-state rule is important because it means that people in states in which plants have cleaned up their act–and there are many–won’t have to breathe the polluted air from their lax neighbors. The Christian Post has a good article on the top 20 states with the most toxic air. New Hampshire is included–that was a surprise to me; that’s important for residents of Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts, among others.
Naturally, opposition to the cross-state ruling has centered around “job-killing” “profit-killing” “economy-crippling” claims by coal industry lobbyists. Those claims have been shown not to materialize–or to be extremely short term in duration. New engineering, technology, and enforcement jobs come online with new regulations. Power plants are forced to spend money to upgrade and even replace plants, creating jobs–and they are sitting on the cash to do so; they don’t get it from the government.
As actor and activist Robert Redford eloquently wrote recently:
“The fact is, federal safeguards for public health, worker safety and our environment generated up to $655 billion in measurable economic benefits over just the past decade, at a cost to industry of $62 billion — at most — according to the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Even on a strict economic analysis, in other words, the national benefits of federal safeguards outweigh costs by more than 10 to 1. Read the report for yourself.”
Power suppliers are threatening outages and blackouts while they get into compliance. The Texas Attorney General’s office has announced that it will pursue “every available legal remedy” to block the new ruling.
Of course, the power plants do not take into account the health costs of treating people sickened by air pollution–because they don’t pay those families’ bills. Even so, you would think they would care about children’s health. But they share the same lack of concern that tobacco growers and cigarette makers did about cancer: they denied and ignored mounting science on pernicious health effects. Houston has had skyrocketing asthma rates with children suffering the most, missing school and being hospitalized for treatment.
The EPA has said in response to opponents that Texas “has an ample range of cost-effective emission reductions options” for complying with the rule “without threatening electricity reliability or the continued operation of coal-burning units.”
“No community should have to bear the burden of another community’s polluters or be powerless to prevent air pollution that leads to asthma, heart attacks and other harmful illnesses,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in July.
In a defensive measure, The White House has responded to the outcry from the environmental community about the president’s punt on ozone by posting a review of environmental protections it has enacted in the last two and a half years, including fuel efficiency for cars and light trucks, and the first-ever standards for medium and heavy-duty trucks.
Administrator Jackson is a mom–and one tough political pro. She can’t be out there fighting the EPA battles alone. We lost a big one, with the ozone regulations. But we’re going to have to stay focused on what’s coming up. So I, for one, am sending Administrator Jackson a HUGE thank you, and a shout-out for all she’s been doing on behalf of clean air.
Moms Clean Air Force is fighting for our children’s health–because air pollution isn’t just dirty–it is poisonous. Please join us, and together we’ll keep the pressure mounting on Washington to do the right thing: End pollution. Administrator Jackson, thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for your brave and inspiring work on behalf of the health of all people–and most especially, our children. They can’t fight for themselves. They’re counting on us.