02/16/2011 02:26 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

'Winning the Future' by Not Going Backwards on Clean Air Rules

Today, I was asked to make some comments on a recent Ceres report, "New Jobs-Cleaner Air: Employment Effects under Planned Changes to EPA's Air Pollution Rules." The report demonstrates the enormous job growth potential from investments related to the Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to curb air pollution and protect public health. If you haven't had a chance yet to check out this report I would highly recommend giving it a closer look. Here were some of my takeaways.

When I first read the Ceres report, the first thing that came to mind was a quote from Albert Einstein who said, "In adversity lies opportunity." Clearly, dealing with the threats posed by air pollution -- including climate change and adverse public health effects -- represent significant adversity, but it also provides us with an important opportunity. This report shows that working to achieve healthy air will result in a healthy economy. This is not new news -- our country has seen 40 years of success and benefits from the Clean Air Act.

In 1970, President Nixon signed into law historic clean air legislation -- the Clean Air Act -- that established a clean air regulatory framework to curb our deadly air pollution. This law was so successful that more than 200,000 lives were saved from 1970-1990 -- more than twice as many people than live in my current hometown of Wilmington, Delaware. In 1990, President George Herbert Walker Bush signed into law the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 -- which built upon the 1970 framework to give us the clean air laws we have today.

Lately, opponents of environmental and public health laws have tried to make the claim that the regulations put in place by the Clean Air Act and the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 raised costs for consumers and hurt our economy. But the facts tell a different story. Since 1990, electricity rates have stayed constant and national gross domestic product has grown by 60 percent. At the same time, we have saved thousands of lives and ensured that our children can breathe cleaner, healthier air. For 2010 alone, clean air regulations are estimated to have saved more than 160,000 lives.

The truth is that there are a number of economic and public health benefits that are a direct result of the Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to curb harmful air pollution. Over the 1990 to 2020 time period, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that our country will see more than $12 trillion in health and economic benefits -- in the form of longer lives, healthier kids, and greater workforce productivity -- because of the Clean Air Act. Put another way, the Clean Air Act benefits outweigh the costs of implementing these regulations by a 30 to 1 margin. That strikes me as a great return on our investment.

Over the years we've made great strides in reducing our nation's air pollution, but more can be done, more must be done. Many "downwind" states, like my state of Delaware, have led the way in making investments in clean energy and curbing air pollution, but a high percent of our air pollution comes from outside sources that we can't control. As a result, downwind states pay the steep economic and health costs of our upwind neighbor's pollution. Clean air regulations are needed to ensure we are good neighbors so all our children have a healthy future. Clean air regulations also ensure this nation can compete in the emerging global clean energy economy.

Unfortunately, some of my colleagues in the House and the Senate want to halt future clean air regulations. Some would have us believe that we cannot afford these regulations. That is just not true. In fact, these regulations provide opportunities for well-paying American jobs.

According to the Ceres report, upcoming clean air regulations will not only saves lives, but will create much needed jobs every year -- some 300,000 jobs annually and as many as one and a half million jobs over five years. These are American jobs in manufacturing, installing, and operating modern pollution control technology and producing clean energy -- jobs that come at a crucial time as our nation's economy continues to recover and grow. So my response to my colleagues -- is that we cannot afford DELAYS to clean air regulations.

In closing, I'd like to leave you with a quote from President Harry Truman. He said, "The only thing new in this world is the history that you don't know." I ask my colleagues, and the American public, to take some time and revisit the facts in regards to the Clean Air Act. I believe once they see the facts, they will realize that moving this country forward cannot mean going backwards on clean air rules.