Standing in the very same room in which landmark laws like the Clean Air Act were written, environmental and public health advocates expressed their dismay Tuesday as House Republicans voted to pass what the advocates called a "poisoned" and "preposterous" payroll tax bill.
Their key concerns: Two extraneous provisions that would delay EPA's regulations on industrial boilers and expedite the controversial tar sands pipeline project known as Keystone XL. The rider-laden bill is not expected to pass the Senate.
"Time and time again, House Republicans have added 'poison pill' riders to must-pass legislation," Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said during yesterday's press conference in the EPW Committee Room. "This time these are really poison riders -- because they are in essence saying we will have more poison in our atmosphere."
Meanwhile, Republicans continue to argue the importance of prioritizing jobs. "The American people are asking, 'Where are the jobs?'" House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said during a news conference after last night's vote. "The House is listening, and we've passed a large bill that contains many of the priorities of our caucus and the White House."
David Goldston, director of government affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council, is among the advocates who disagree. "House Republicans, who say that this tax relief and unemployment assistance are necessary, hold up a bill for unrelated measures that do environmental harm," he told The Huffington Post. "It is preposterous."
Boxer added that a strong economy and effective environmental safeguards go "hand in hand," highlighting a Pew Charitable Trust report that found more than 10,000 new clean energy businesses were launched in California between 1998 and 2007. She used China's foul air as another case in point: The air is so filthy that "elected officials drive around with special filters in their car," she said. Pollution levels have even forced the airport near Beijing to shut down due to a lack of visibility on the tarmac.
"There's one simple truth: If you can't breathe, you can't work," Boxer said. "You can't get your degree if you're stuck in the emergency room because you had an asthma attack."
As Donald Hoppert, director of governmental affairs for the American Public Health Association, told reporters at the press conference, EPA's recently prosed rule on industrial boilers would reduce air pollution and prevent up to 52,00 asthma attacks, 5,100 heart attacks and 8,100 premature deaths annually. The mercury, arsenic, lead and other pollutants in the air can also cause cancer, developmental disabilities in children and can damage the brain and nervous system of infants.
"Additionally, the rule would provide $12 to $30 of health benefits for every dollar spent to implement the new standards," said Hoppert. Only about 5,500 of the dirtiest boilers -- out of the country's approximately 1.5 million -- would be affected. Industry would also have as many as four years to comply with the stricter regulations.
Boxer further noted that the Keystone XL rider would allow the controversial project to move forward without proper assessments, potentially endangering drinking water supplies and pubic health. "The Environmental Impact Statement was done by a company that has ties to the corporation building the pipeline," she added.
A longer list of anti-environmental provisions had been feared to ride on the separate year-end omnibus spending bill, including measures that would threaten the water quality of streams and rivers and block the new energy efficiency standard for light bulbs. However, Politico reported Wednesday that "whenever the bill sees the light of day," it will be "largely stripped of policy riders aimed at environmental regulations."
Regardless, advocates remain concerned. "I hope the American people will call Speaker Boehner and tell him to drop those poison riders from must-pass legislation," said Boxer.
"I don't think anyone ever contacted Santa and said bring me a box of mercury, and then a very pretty box of arsenic, and an even prettier box of lead with a ribbon on it," she added. "I don't think we're asking Santa for that."
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article attributed a quote to David Goldstein, co-director of the NRDC energy program. The correct attribution is David Goldston, NRDC's director of government affairs.