Jobs or Health? A Shocking Assault From An Attorney General

BY ON November 4, 2011

The U.S. House of Representatives held yet another committee hearing this week on EPA’s proposed clean air rules. As usual, it generated lots of heat and very little light – and no consensus whatsoever.

It did, however, generate a couple of jaw-dropping quotes from some of the participants.

Tuesday’s hearing by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was called, Lights Out II: Should EPA Take a Step Back to Fully Consider Utility MACT’s Impact on Job Creation.

Utility MACT is the formal name for the proposed Mercury and Air Toxics rule that would reduce the level of dangerous pollution released from coal-fired power plants. (You can watch the entire hearing for yourself – the video is now online.)

The star witness of the hearing was Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who became famous (or infamous) nationally as a climate change denier. Not surprisingly, he was firmly in the “yes” camp on DELAYING.

For the most part, Cuccinelli made the same arguments we’ve heard over and over from Clean Air Act opponents. But this exchange, with Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, is shocking:

Kucinich: “You’re saying that [clean air standards] cost jobs by definition in the coal industry?

Cuccinelli: “Sure.”

Kucinich: “Is it possible that if you don’t have clean air standards that it could also create health problems for people?”

Cuccinelli: “Sure that’s the trade-off here. That’s the trade off.”

Have we ever heard an EPA opponent openly admit that they were willing to trade other people’s health for a few jobs before? The exchange continued when Cuccinelli tried to argue that poor people in southwestern Virginia need jobs.

Kucinich: “Is dirty air good for poor people?”

Cuccinelli: “Dirty air isn’t good for anybody. Jobs are good for everybody.”

Kucinich: “Can you think of jobs that are created by poor air standards?”

Cuccinelli didn’t have a specific answer for that – which led Kucinich to say:

“I was just wondering if [Cuccinelli] was including in his advocacy the jobs that are created for undertakers when people don’t survive as a result of poor air standards.”

Ouch. That may be the most pointed comment we’ve heard so far in the clean air debate.

The committee also heard from an economist, Dr. Josh Bivens, who completely disagreed with Cuccinelli’s economic assessment. Bivens said his research shows the adoption of the Air Toxics Rule would lead to the creation of between 28,000 and 158,000 jobs between now and the year 2015. Bivens said,

“I conclude that the Air Toxics Rule, like almost all related regulatory changes, will have trivial effects on job growth over the longer run, but that over the next couple of years, particularly as the unemployment rate remains high, the rule will actually on net create jobs and lower the unemployment rate…Calls to delay implementation of the rule based on vague appeals to wider economic weakness have the case entirely backward. There’s no better time than now,  from a job creation perspective, to move forward with these rules.”

But Cuccinelli’s most forceful opponent was probably Rep. Gerry Connelly of Virginia, who seemed offended by Cuccinelli’s characterization of their mutual home state.

When the attorney general tried to argue that the Air Toxics Rule would be devastating for the economy in southwestern Virginia because the coal-fired power plants there couldn’t possibly meet the new, higher standards, Connelly shot back with a list of coal-fired power plants,

“…that are already fully compliant with EPA’s proposed rule — including four in my native state of Virginia, despite the testimony of the previous witness that nobody in Virginia could be compliant, I’ve got four power plants, coal-fired power plants, that are fully compliant today.”

Later, Connelly went back to the point. He said an aide had corrected him – it’s actually six coal-fired power plants in Virginia that are already fully compliant, all of them are south of the Rappahannock River in the very part of Appalachia that Cuccinelli had claimed could not manage to lower its pollution.

Connelly summed up the entire proceeding by calling it:

“…a hearing to attack commonsense EPA limits on mercury, arsenic, dioxin and other pollution. Once again, we’re presented with a false choice – in this case, a false choice between electricity and clean air. I regret that we’re holding this hearing instead of … going into other topics that I think would be more productive and would, in fact, create jobs.

We wish he had gone one step further, and pointed out that this is a false choice between electricity and our children’s health. Our families don’t have to suffer from asthma, heart attacks, cancer, diabetes, or learning disabilities just so we can keep the power on. As those six Virginia power plants prove, we have safer, cleaner, healthier ways to do business. Our thanks to all those at the hearing who recognize that fact. And a chorus of boos to those, like Cuccinelli, who insist that we have to trade our money for our lives.

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TOPICS: Asthma, Coal, Economics, Mercury Poisoning, Politics, Pollution