For parents and health administrators who thought that 2011 had ended in a victory for clean air, 2012 is yielding a new surprise from an elected representative who is determined to put a stranglehold on the Environmental Protection Agency.
It took more than two decades to nail down a ruling that would limit emissions of the neurotoxin mercury and other airborne chemicals that emanate from coal-fired power plants. Yet Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) has stepped up to the plate -- once again -- in an effort to rescind the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) announced on Dec. 21, 2011.
How does Inhofe plan to do it? He introduced a resolution under the Congressional Review Act (CRA). If a majority votes with him, the health benefits of MATS would not just be obliterated, any potential for the EPA to create new standards with the same goals would effectively be cut off. Americans would lose the benefits of a reduction of the mercury and acid gas pollution that emanates from the power plants burning oil and coal.
The EPA has put out stats stating that beginning in 2016, the MATS regulations will annually prevent:
• 130,000 asthma attacks
• Approximately 5,000 heart attacks
• Up to 11,000 premature deaths
• 5,700 emergency room and hospital visits
• 540,000 lost days of school and work
Inhofe and his supporters continue to cling to the "jobs vs. clear air" argument. However, the EPA has repeatedly refuted this claim, pointing to the almost 10,000 temporary construction jobs that would be created, in addition to 8,000 permanent utility jobs. An analysis from the Economic Policy Institute has formulated that "by balancing benefits to health against costs of compliance -- the toxics rule is a clear win for Americans."
Currently, one in 10 American women of child-bearing age has enough mercury in her blood stream to create risks to an unborn child. This is one of the reasons that more than 15 organizations signed on to a March 19, 2012 letter to senators asserting that Inhofe's resolution "elevates the demands of polluters above the health and well being or our children." It urged a public refutation of "any efforts to block, weaken or delay these vital public health protections." At the top of the list of signers was the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Inhofe has established a unique niche in the environmental space by being the sole senator to oppose the Everglades restoration, and for his quote calling the EPA a "Gestapo bureaucracy." In an editorial, the New York Times described him as "one of the most persistent critics of the clean air laws."
I reached out to Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, for his thoughts on Inhofe's move to bring down the EPA's landmark legislation. He responded by email with the following comment:
"After decades of delay, last December, the Environmental Protection Agency finally acted to require dirty coal and oil-fired power plants to clean up their mercury and deadly air toxic emissions. By targeting our nation's largest sources of mercury, this regulation requires polluters to reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent -- which will reduce the mercury that contaminates our streams and fish and end up in our children. This long overdue public health measure will help ensure our nation's utilities are doing their very best to keep our air clean -- allowing many people in this country to live better, healthier and, in some cases, longer lives. At the same time, the EPA has provided a reasonable and achievable schedule for our dirtiest power plants to reduce these harmful emissions. The agency has even allowed extra time if needed for the industry and states to address any possible local reliability concerns. Most communities will see great benefits from these rules -- in fact nationally we will see up to $90 billion in public health benefits. Modernizing our coal fleet is also expected to be a net job creator not a job killer. As someone who has tried for years to work across the aisle to find a way to clean up our nation's power plants, I was encouraged to see the EPA finally act to address these harmful emissions. I will be strongly opposing any efforts to prevent the EPA from moving forward with efforts to reduce these deadly emissions."
It's now up to the voters to let their senators know that want to breathe unpolluted air.
This article was written for Moms Clean Air Force.