Clean air, gas-sipping automobiles, green energy technology and the rules that promote them are good for public health and the economy. That was the message a diverse group of advocates delivered to lawmakers this week during a two-day conference in Washington, D.C.
United by a desire to keep politicians from weakening the Clean Air Act, which is under attack by some in Congress, small business owners, consumers, public health advocates and faith communities flew to the Capitol to praise the progress that has been made in our country as a result of the act.
On Monday, participants started the conference -- put on by Small Business Majority and nine other organizations including Consumers Union and the American Lung Association -- with a Clean Air Act history lesson, delivered by experts in various fields. Then Environmental Protection Agency Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy educated them about what the EPA is currently doing to reduce pollution. Armed with that knowledge and their personal reasons for supporting the Clean Air Act, they visited their representatives on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, making sure lawmakers heard loud and clear that their constituents support the landmark law.
It's easy to understand why those interested in public health would urge their Congress members to maintain the strength of a law that has cleared our skies of noxious pollutants, but why were small business owners eager to have their voice heard on this issue? It's a good question many people may be wondering. These entrepreneurs know that, while some groups claiming to represent small business would have you believe otherwise, the passage four decades ago of the Clean Air Act has led to years of economic growth and prosperity.
Let's look at the facts.
* A report by Small Business Majority found that the economic benefits of the Clean Air Act have far outweighed the costs. In the last two decades, emissions of the most common air pollutants have declined by 41 percent, while the Gross National Product (GDP) has increased by 64 percent.
* Existing clean air standards have boosted the economy by as much as $148 billion and pending standards could boost the economy by as much as $457 billion.
* The Clean Air Act drives technological innovation. Inventions like the catalytic converter have helped make the United States a world leader in exporting environmental-control technologies. These exports grew by 130 percent between 1993 and 2003, and were valued at $30 billion in 2004.
* The Clean Air Act was responsible for creating 1.3 million jobs between 1977 and 1991 alone.
* Air quality is significantly better across the country because of the Clean Air Act. The number of bad air days is down and the severity of unhealthy days has been significantly reduced. That means fewer people get sick and productivity increases.
* The Clean Air Act has ushered in more than 40 years of technological innovation, job creation and expanded U.S. exports--things that benefit small business owners and lay the foundation for long-term economic growth.
But the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency, responsible for enforcing the Clean Air Act, is being threatened by members of Congress who would limit its ability to do its job. The EPA is preparing to update clean air standards and reduce the amount of the toxic pollution in the air. But some lawmakers are working overtime to delay these new standards and to kill old ones by any means possible. That's why small business owners were in D.C. this week with other clean air advocates. They know the Clean Air Act provides them with opportunities to make and save money. They know efforts to gut the act will lead to a drop in environmental innovation and create a stumbling block to the country's fledgling green economy, which holds so much promise for new business. They know attempts in Congress to block the EPA's ability to enforce the Clean Air Act jeopardize years of economic success.
Let's hope the politicians in D.C. listen to this varied group of more than 60 concerned citizens and back off their plans to weaken the act. Instead, they should pursue a path to prosperity by implementing forward thinking standards that will protect our health and promote our businesses now and in the future.