Why Congress Is Going Home Early

BY ON September 20, 2012

Cartoon of two Congress men leaving a government building; "Ahhh--the smell of freshly mown environmental regulations."

Like many Americans these days, I’m turning up my radio to hear stories about Presidential polling numbers, the Presidential Debate calendar, and the famous 47%. And it seems as if Members of Congress are just like us. Instead of working to debate bills and vote on them, they instead decided to close shop weeks earlier than originally planned so they could go on the campaign trail. That means that this week is their last week in session before the election.

But don’t take your eye off Capitol Hill just yet. Because it looks like the health of our kids just got thrown under the bus.

As one of their final efforts before the sprint to Election Day, the House of Representatives has introduced the “Stop the War on Coal” Act. And they are planning to vote on it any minute now.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee claims this is a “jobs bill” that is aimed at stopping “EPA’s regulatory assault on the American power sector.” But if you look closely, you’ll find a combination of several bills already voted on by this House of Representatives (but rejected by the Senate) that would systematically undermine pollution prevention efforts to protect public health.

Here’s some of what the bill would do:

  • Repeal the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which would allow mercury to continue to spew from power plants into the atmosphere, contaminating our fish and, ultimately, our children’s developing brains. Meanwhile, many plants have already installed the readily available technology that allows them to continue to generate electricity without emitting this dangerous toxicant into our air.
  • Repeal EPA’s science-based finding that carbon dioxide is an air pollutant, thus preventing the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide emissions. (I guess the Members are under the impression that running for office is somehow equivalent to getting a PhD in science.)
  • Prevent coal ash from being designated a hazardous waste. Coal ash is the toxics-laced waste product that remains after coal is burned at power plants. It can contain arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, and chromium, and there are no federal regulations governing its disposal. A “hazardous” designation would insure that it’s stored in properly lined and fortified waste ponds, protecting the homes, water supplies, and health of surrounding communities.
  • Prevent the Office of Surface Mining from moving forward with its rule designed to protect streams from the hazards of mining.

Now, just to be clear: It’s widely understood that this package has no chance of becoming the law of the land. The Democratically-controlled Senate would not approve it. The Senate has already rejected several components of this bill in previous votes.

But members of the House of Representatives are nevertheless eager to record their votes, yet again, on a package of bills that value the profits of polluters over the health of our children, our families, and our communities.

This is not a “jobs bill.” It’s a “keep-lining-the-pockets-of-big-industry-while-stalling-the-development-of-sustainable-green-jobs” bill.

This bill doesn’t stop “EPA’s regulatory assault on the American power sector.” Instead it perpetuates the assault of fossil fuel pollution on American families, while exempting the American power sector from having to prevent such pollution or clean it up.

At a time when Congress is facing historically low approval ratings, and is about to finish out the least productive session in modern history, lawmakers have decided to vote again on a bill that caters to the fossil fuels industry, damages public health, denies science, and places the wealth of industry executives above the health of my children. And the bill has no chance of passing.

I guess if I were a Member of Congress I’d close shop early, too.

Drawing: Danny Shanahan


TOPICS: Clean Air Rules and Regulations, Coal, Economics, EPA, Politics, Pollution