House Republicans are expected to pass critical legislation this week to extend a middle class tax cut and unemployment benefits. But their price for this important fiscal stimulus is unrelated, harmful riders which put our families at risk.
Ironically, Republican leaders are offering a payroll tax cut to help American families on one hand, and with the other hand, they are supporting a provision that will block clean air standards for the largest boilers -- a rule that is designed to protect the American people from toxic mercury, lead, and arsenic pollution.
If they succeed, objective scientific data show there will be up to 8,100 more premature deaths per year, 52,000 more asthma cases per year, 5,100 more heart attacks per year, and 400,000 more lost work days per year. That is because the rule they seek to overturn would reduce mercury pollution, which can, among other things, cause developmental disabilities in children and damage to the brain and nervous system of infants.
Here is the truth: the proposed rule affects less than 1 percent of industrial boilers in the nation -- the biggest, dirtiest facilities that should have reduced their dangerous pollution at least a decade ago.
According to the President and CEO of the American Boiler Manufacturers Association, Randy Rawson, "There appears to be nothing in [the Environmental Protection Agency's] proposals that cannot be handled in a timely and cost-effective way...These rules still hold a strong promise to create additional, high-paying skilled and unskilled domestic manufacturing jobs in the boiler and in associated industries. . . ."
We have come a long way since the days when rivers were on fire and air pollution made the simple act of breathing painfully difficult. We can see the consequences of unchecked pollution in countries like China today. Just last week, hundreds of airline flights in China were cancelled because of excessive smog, and there are reports that the country's elites have installed air purifiers in their homes to alleviate the dangerous effects of unhealthy air.
So why would House Republicans attach environmental rollbacks and hold hostage this vital payroll tax legislation which will help the economy and millions of Americans? The sad truth is that they must care more about their special interests and polluter friends than they do about children and families.
We must stop these dangerous provisions from being included in the payroll tax cut package. The economy needs the payroll tax bill, and the American people deserve their health and safety protected.
The Republican proposal also includes a provision approving the controversial tar sands Keystone XL pipeline, which is in need of further review. Multiple concerns have been raised about this project's Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which analyzes its health and safety implications.
Recent reports have indicated that the contractor selected to prepare the EIS had financial ties to the pipeline operator, TransCanada, which calls into question whether the analysis was done on an impartial basis, as federal law requires.
As President Obama has stated, this pipeline project needs further study because of its implications for public health and safety. If the President says that we need more time to review the project, then we should respect that request.
If there is one thing all Americans are united on, it is their negative feelings about attaching unrelated matters to must-pass legislation -- especially when these provisions have not even had a vote.
I am calling on House Republicans to acknowledge that they should be serving the people, not the polluters.
Follow Sen. Barbara Boxer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/EPWChairBoxer