As a new mother, it breaks my heart when I hear stories from parents who are struggling with their kids' health problems. I know parents who live in fear of their child's next asthma attack. Some can't even let their kids play outside when local air pollution hits dangerous levels. We do everything we can to protect our kids, even before they're born.
When I was expecting my daughter, I was careful not to eat fish known to have high levels of toxic mercury. Now that I'm a mom I've started paying a lot more attention to alerts about bad air days. But sometimes, it's just not enough.
Unfortunately, the pollution that spews from coal-fired power plants and vehicle tailpipes makes no distinction between old and young or between healthy and weak. And although we're all affected, the youngest and most vulnerable end up paying the highest price.
I can't understand how anyone in a position of authority could fail to use that power to protect children, the elderly, and other vulnerable citizens from threats to their well-being. We have the technology and the know-how to clean up this pollution and save thousands of lives. But the coal and oil industries spend millions on lobbyists each year to maintain the status quo. When I hear about elected officials doing everything they can to undermine commonsense protections while helping polluters, I get mad.
Polls show that the majority of Americans agree with me when I say that it's absolutely unacceptable that some members of Congress are trying to cripple the Clean Air Act. Those lawmakers want to hobble the Environmental Protection Agency, so that the coal and oil industries can continue to pump soot, smog, mercury, arsenic, lead, and other toxins into our water and air.
During its first 20 years alone, the EPA saved more than 200,000 lives and prevented millions of asthma attacks, heart problems, and other serious illnesses -- simply by enforcing the Clean Air Act.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is eager to keep saving lives and taxpayer money. But in spite of the proven benefits of clean-air standards, "polluters-before-people" members of Congress are trying to block the EPA from protecting communities from air pollutants that put thousands of children at risk of slowed brain development and asthma.
That, however, is just the beginning. The U.S. House of Representatives has now passed a devastating budget plan that would gut both the EPA's authority and its ability to protect our air and water. This radical approach would effectively destroy bedrock safeguards that have protected our health and environment for decades.
Amazingly, 235 members of the House voted for this budget plan, which kicks American families and workers while we're down and does nothing to create jobs or grow the economy. Adding insult to injury, their vote left government handouts to wealthy corporate polluters untouched -- a move that will cost American taxpayers billions of dollars.
Our nation's first awakening to the serious problems created by unchecked industrial pollution prompted the creation of the EPA four decades ago. Since then, the agency has played a critical role in implementing and enforcing safeguards against polluters run amok. We all enjoy cleaner air and water than we did 40 years ago, but pollution levels are still dangerously high. Our work -- and the EPA's job -- isn't done.
As we confront the energy and resource challenges of the 21st century, we need the EPA more than ever. Just ask the millions of parents whose kids are suffering from asthma, or pregnant women who must worry about their exposure to mercury.
We need our congressional leaders to recognize that our nation's physical and economic well-being depends on strong health and safety standards, and a strong EPA to enforce them. Congress should get to work meeting the real challenges that face America -- and let the EPA get on with its work of cracking down on polluters to protect every American's right to drink clean water and breathe clean air.
Mary Anne Hitt is director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, which is working to eliminate coal's contribution to global warming and repower the nation with clean energy.
Cross-posted from Other Words.
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