07/20/2010 10:15 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

We Can't Lose the Clean Air Act in a Climate Bill

After nearly three months of inaction since the beginning of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the Senate will finally take on climate and clean energy within the next two weeks.

The Senate returned from the Independence Day recess with a packed schedule, but with regulatory reform now in the books, we expect energy to hit the docket soon. We never expected it to be a simple process and we knew it was likely that the ACES bill passed last year in the House would be weakened in the Senate. But what we're seeing now reminds us that we can't afford to let the dirty fossil fuels and utilities get their way with legislation this time.

Two areas of concern for the climate movement: Senator Jay Rockefeller's (D-WV) "Dirty Air Act" amendment, and utilities seeking exemption from the Clean Air Act.

For the past six months, 1Sky and our supporters and allies diligently worked to help defeat Senator Lisa Murkwoski's "Dirty Air Act" resolution. Now we see Senator Rockefeller being promised floor time by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to introduce an amendment to block the climate regulations under the Clean Air Act for two years. Utilities are also trying to get in on the game, pushing for exemption from Clean Air Act standards in return for a cap on carbon emissions.

We can expect Clean Air Act regulations to repeatedly come under fire for years to come, but these two developments are especially worrisome. Without the Clean Air Act, among other provisions, the Senate cannot expect to pass a strong clean energy and climate bill. We simply can't support a utility-only cap-and-trade system in exchange for the gutting of Clean Air Act regulations that are currently our strongest tool for tackling climate change and jump-starting our transition to a clean energy economy.

The Senate must realize that a strong bill does not, and should not, begin here. Americans can't afford a weak bill and we can't let this moment become a farce. The BP Gulf oil disaster and the West Virginia coal mine collapse are just two of the events this year that remind us why we need to build a clean energy future.

If we are to transition from "Spill to Bill," we can't afford to barter the Clean Air Act along the way. 1Sky and other groups are pushing Senate leadership this week to draft strong climate legislation that won't sacrifice the health of our children and communities. The integrity of our public health is not an either/or proposition and should never be a bargaining chip in exchange for cutting climate pollution and building a clean energy economy.