Playing Politics with Clean Air

BY ON June 28, 2011

We moms often scratch our heads and wonder, don’t pro-polluters have children of their own? Don’t they care about their health?

Of course they do. But children aren’t on pro-polluters minds. Maybe because the pro- polluters aren’t the ones sitting in hospital emergency rooms while children have asthma attacks. Pro-polluters aren’t the ones in the cancer wards. Pro-polluters aren’t the ones in the neonatal units with prematurely born babies suffering from elevated levels of mercury in their blood. Group of adults relaxing outside

Pro-polluters are on different front lines–party lines. They’re playing a game of political extremism. That’s what the rhetoric against the Clean Air Act is about. Pro-polluters resent government regulations–they’re all bad, an unnecessary, costly nuisance.

So where are the voices of moderation? Why aren’t they louder than the extremists? Moderates have plenty to shout about!

Today I got a letter in the mail informing me of a safety recall of a plastic valve on my ten-year old car. The first line of the letter: “This notice is sent to you in accordance with the requirements of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act.”

I dropped off my car, and got a ride back from the dealer in a shuttle van. As we neared a construction zone, with a policeman directing traffic, the shuttle driver snapped on his seat belt. Why? Rhode Island has a seat belt law. That was enacted only because the first seat belt law was a federal law that took effect January 1, 1968, requiring all cars be fitted with seat belts.

Everyday, we live with the effects–and the protection–of federal regulations. Usually these protections are “invisible”–we don’t think about them until something goes wrong. Eggs are contaminated: Recall. Toys are covered with lead paint: Recall.

Not all government regulations are bad. In fact, some are terrific!

President Nixon’s Clean Air Act of 1970, revised in 1990, has wiped away a great deal of smog for decades now. But the job isn’t done. Many of the pollutants coming out of coal-fired electric plants are invisible, so you don’t see the toxic materials floating through the air. Yet they have a visible and powerful impact on everything from asthma rates to childhood cancers.

You would think that continual reinforcement of the Clean Air Act would be a no-brainer, right? After all, whether Republican or Democrat, we share the air. We all have children. We want them to be safe.

But the increasingly heated rhetoric around repealing the Clean Air Act has nothing to do with children, health, safety–or even jobs. The Clean Air Act is being high-jacked by Tea Partiers, who sometimes, (until it comes to cutting government programs precious to their constituencies,) think they are members of the Libertarian party–“Minimum Government, Maximum Freedom” .  The Clean Air Act is being used as a symbol of government regulation. In other words, the Clean Air Act is becoming a political toy.

The Libertarian Party platform on the environment (section 2.2 ) states that free markets will protect the environment, as the free market does everything best: “Governments, unlike private businesses, are unaccountable for such damage done to our environment and have a terrible track record when it comes to environmental protection.”

In fact, the opposite is true, as the history of environmental clean-up and protection over the last fifty years proves over and over again. Government regulation has stimulated countless technological advances in response–everything from seat belts and airbags to the “scrubbers” that clean coal-plant smokestacks.

The anti-government pro-polluters are willing to lie, deceive, and confuse the public on everything from the medical science of mercury contamination to the impact of smokestack scrubbers on jobs. But polluting the political dialogue is a dangerous game.

Someday, all moderates of Republican and Democratic stripe are going to wonder how they let the anti-government extremists run away with the ball. It won’t happen soon.

So don’t hold your breath.

Until the voices of moderation get louder than the voices of extremism:

Moms have to do everything we can to make sure our Clean Air Act is as strong as it needs to be to protect our children’s health. Support the EPA.

Sign up for Moms Clean Air Force. Together, we can fight to keep our children safe.

TOPICS: Asthma, Politics, Pollution, Social Justice