Each member of the U.S. House of Representatives has a responsibility to govern for all Americans, not just the voters (and power brokers) in his or her district. Unfortunately, that obligation is often neglected on the floor of Congress as evidenced by the recent debate over a Republican bill to block stricter air pollution regulation of the cement industry.
On one side were Democrats arguing in behalf of the entire nation to strengthen environmental safeguards against highly toxic mercury pollution from cement factories. On the other side were Republicans defending narrow special interests by parroting the cement industry's self-serving line that the proposed regulations was excessive and would cost jobs.
One should note that the Democratic lawmakers participating in the House debate were mostly women and/or ethnic minorities whereas the Republican contingent were primarily white, male, and from the South (especially Texas). Draw your own conclusions.
Business people are constituents just like everybody else, but do they deserve preferential treatment, especially at the expense of public health? The GOP made no pretense of objectivity in pushing to sidetrack tighter cement regulation. Republican debate participants unapologetically used only industry's own data to buttress their argument that tougher regulation of mercury emissions would drive American cement companies either out of business or out of the country. Given industry's generic propensity for over stating the case, the Democrats were not persuaded by the grim prognosis. They maintained that it was lack of consumer demand because of the lagging economy--not regulation--that was responsible for the cement industry's plight. Even the industry's own economic projections seem to bear this out. Without any assurance of a regulatory relaxation, the Portland Cement Association in anticipation of the economy's rebound was confident enough to predict a 25 percent increase in production by 2013.
Meanwhile, industry's bleak picture of its immediate prospects is challenged by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Agency estimates that potential job loss from the proposed stricter mercury rule would be 600 at most, and if circumstances break right, a net gain of 1300 jobs could actually occur. Moreover, the EPA calculates that the new regulation would result in seven to nineteen dollars in health benefits for every dollar industry spends to comply with the law.
During the House debate, speakers on the Republican side always prefaced their remarks with a token salute to environmental protection. They then proceeded to advocate that anti-pollution standards reflect a little "common sense" and "balance", euphemistic code words for weakening environmental safeguards to reduce companies' overhead costs.
It's time to dispense with this charade. Industry's warnings of impending doom from environmental regulation must be taken with a grain of salt. At this juncture, there is no excuse for any member of Congress not to recognize when a corporate polluter is "crying wolf".
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