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Energy Chairman Upton Turns His Back on Health Protections Americans Value

01/21/2011 11:15 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This week Representative Fred Upton launched an all-out attack on the government's ability to protect Americans from dangerous air pollution.

Representative Upton is the new chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and on Wednesday he released a committee agenda that calls for blocking the Environmental Protection Agency from reducing life-threatening pollutants like soot, mercury, and carbon.

I am surprised Chairman Upton has thrown down the gauntlet. In the past, he supported addressing climate change and promoting clean energy solutions, especially energy efficiency. This was in keeping with his home state of Michigan, which passed a highly successful efficiency program that's on track to save residents $404 million.

But with this new agenda, Chairman Upton is turning his back on clean solutions. The environmental and public health communities will not stand by while he attempts to unravel one of our nation's most effective safeguards: the Clean Air Act.

Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1970, requiring the EPA to regulate air pollutants that endanger our health and the environment. The agency has done this job for 40 years, successfully reducing lead from gasoline, phasing out the ozone-depleting chemicals, and slashing the pollutants that cause acid rain. It has saved hundreds of thousands of lives in the process.

We've made a lot of progress since the Clean Air Act was passed. Yet America still has hundreds of coal-fired power plants with no modern pollution controls. As a result, air pollution continues to kill thousands of Americans every year, cause 35,000 asthma attacks, and cost $100 billion a year in medical expenses.

Meanwhile, companies have no limits on how much carbon pollution they release. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Air Act unambiguously covers all air pollutants, including carbon dioxide pollution. Rather than seeking to stymie the EPA, our elected officials should stand up for clean air and the health and future of our families.

For that is what Americans want. This fall, a poll conducted by Opinion Research Corp /Infogroup for NRDC found that 82 percent of Americans support the work of the EPA. And 73 percent support "protecting the Environmental Protection Agency's authority" to "take steps that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electric utilities and other major industrial polluters."

Interestingly, support for the EPA was strong across party lines: 71 percent of Republicans, 89 percent of Independents, and 93 percent of Democrats back the agency.

Chairman Upton is clearly out of step with the American peoples' desire to keep our families healthy and reduce the risk of climate change. I hope that he will abandon his divisive attack on the Clean Air Act and instead join us where so many Americans are finding common ground: clean energy solutions.