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Marcia G. Yerman

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Do Americans Really Have to Choose between Health and Energy?

Posted: 07/11/11 09:56 AM ET

2011-07-08-Sen.CarperMGY.jpg

On Thursday, June 30, Senator Thomas R. Carper (D-DE), the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, called a hearing to review EPA federal safeguards replacing the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) and the Clean air Mercury Rule (CAMR). Also on the agenda was a review of impending EPA electric utility air pollution requirements tasked with addressing transport pollution and air toxics.

As a member of the Mom's Clean Air Force, this is the second hearing that I have monitored to see where our elected officials are coming down on the issue of supporting non-toxic air. Similar to my previously posted observation, the opinions of Senators were clearly demarcated along partisan lines. Witnesses reflected this dichotomy as well. Present were:

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD)
Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY)
Sen. John Sessions (R-AL)

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) made a brief appearance to offer comments and introduce a witness. (He turned up on the news later that day after he accused the President of engaging in "blatant demagoguery".)

Called to testify were: Gina McCarthy, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, EPA; Collin P. O'Mara, Secretary, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control for the State of Delaware; Bryan W. Shaw, Ph.D., Texas Commission on Environmental Quality; Sue Tierney, Managing Principal, Analysis Group; Barbara Walz, Sr. Vice President Policy and Environmental, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association; David O. Carpenter, M.D., Director, Institute for Health and the Environment, University at Albany.

I was live tweeting the event. McCarthy was a clear and forceful speaker as she affirmed that the Obama administration was not the first to tackle the concern of clean air. She pointed out that since 1989, "power plant clean up has been the continuous policy of the U.S. government under two Democratic and two Republican presidents." She underscored that some in the power industry--despite pollution control technologies--have intentionally delayed congressional mandates to control air pollution. McCarthy drove home the health benefits of regulations that would both set standards and control emissions. She referenced the impact on children, the elderly, and those who suffer from chronic respiratory disease and asthma. She ran down the stats of what would be eliminated with the implementation of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

• 17,000 premature deaths
• 11,000 heart attacks
• 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms
• 11,000 cases of acute bronchitis among children
• 12,000 emergency room visits and hospital admissions
• 850,000 days of work missed due to illness.

McCarthy maintained, "Theses rules are affordable." She quoted the CEO of Wisconsin Energy who said, "We see very little impact on customer electric rates or our capital plan between now and 2015 as a result of the new EPA regulations." She contended that investing in a "clean energy sector" could create jobs and "keep people working." She closed out with the fact that as per EPA's peer-reviewed estimates, "every dollar we have spent cleaning up the air has given us more than 30 dollars in benefits."

Not surprisingly the pendulum swung back and forth between witnesses giving opposing points of view. Tierney concluded, "The nation does not need to trade off improvements in public health for lower electric reliability. Both of these are essential 'givens' for Americans." Carpenter summarized that "air pollutants coming from power plants result is significant human morbidity and mortality." Shaw took issue with many of the EPA's actions in Texas. He stated that the EPA "misrepresents the risks associated with mercury emissions," citing Texas specific studies. Walz, who directed much of her testimony to the issue of Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) Standards, vocalized that her company Tri-State "supports good environmental regulations, but, firmly believes that the MACT rule goes beyond EPA authority and over-regulates coal fired power plants."

It's easy for the average person to feel overwhelmed by the technical terms and the alphabet soup. However, despite the point-counterpoint, there are moments when a concept is introduced into the conversation that resonates in a fresh way. O'Mara struck that note for me when he parsed the Clean Air Interstate Rule, explaining that as much as ninety percent of Delaware's air quality problems are caused by transported emissions--pollution from "upwind sources." It may sound complicated, but it is easy to understand that "since 2009, Delaware has required that every coal-fired unit control its mercury emissions by 90 percent." However, the state must contend with major public health issues emanating from toxic air originating from out-of-state sources. O'Mara summed it up with one sentence: "This imbalance allows upwind states to enjoy a competitive advantage for economic development, particularly in the recruitment and retention of manufacturing firms, while the downwind states are forced to deal with the consequences economically and environmentally." It was an environmental "aha" moment, making it clear how interconnected we all are.

The exchanges that took place during the questioning lent the juice and drama to the proceedings. Carper read a letter into the record from a mother who had lost a 17-year-old child to asthma. Lautenberg spoke adamantly about the importance of protecting the health of children and seniors. McCarthy was definitive on the fact that mercury threatens kids, emphasizing the need for a "federal standard." She disagreed with criticisms that the EPA was rushing to judgment, defending "the science." McCarthy went head to head with Barrasso when he pushed the cost/benefit analysis argument. Her answer was a terse, "We actually put a value on human life." Sessions objected to specific deadlines and the impact of job losses, while attacking the veracity of EPA numbers. Tierney made the case for compliance, referring to a "very robust set of tools" that were available to make energy efficiency achievable. He reiterated, "Americans don't have to choose between energy and health." Barrasso continued to push the economic impact on people, and suggested that the EPA was "fixated" on small issues. Through it all, Senator Carper tried to run the proceedings with a sense of humor and good will. It may have been lost on some of his colleagues.

I contacted Carper's office to get some feedback on how he was viewing the issue of clean air, and what he had to say to mothers and fathers who were part of the movement to fight for the EPA regulations. He sent the following response via e-mail:

"Millions of our kids ride a bus to school, play on a playground or live in a community that exposes them to high levels of ozone, particle pollution or air toxics - all of which can severely impact children's health. As a parent, I've spent a lot of time worrying about my own children's health. As a U.S. Senator, I worry about every child's health. The EPA's new sensible rules to reduce smog-causing pollution, as well as particle pollution, mercury pollution and other harmful air toxics can give us all cleaner air, while helping to prevent a wide variety of serious health threats to our children. And, in the end, those rules will help us achieve better health care results for less money. I will continue to work with my colleagues--Democrat and Republicans alike--to make sure that all our children have clean air to breathe, air that's free of all types of air pollution. We have made remarkable progress in cleaning up our air, but we still have a long way to go."

Taking it a step further, I asked for a comment about the issue of air transport, which had made an impact on me. Carper wrote:

"I believe we ought to treat other people the way we'd want them to treat us. Air pollution knows no state boundary. As Governor of Delaware in the 1990's, I realized that one state could do everything in its power to reduce its air pollution but could still find itself with dirty air because of bad neighbors. I could have shut down every source of pollution in the state, and Delaware would still have been in nonattainment. I quickly learned that my neighbor's dirty air meant higher health care costs for my state. My neighbor's dirty air meant difficulty [in] attracting businesses to my state. And, my neighbor's dirty air meant we were paying the full price of their dirty energy. That's when I realized we had to have a national solution to address our air quality problems. States cannot do it alone. We're all in this together. We've got to work together, and we need to work with the EPA to continue cleaning up our air."

Sounds like a good philosophy. Now we just need to get folks on board. Check out what you can do to be proactive.

This article was written for the blog Moms Clean Air Force.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

 

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