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Wendy Gordon

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Congress Attacks Breathtaking

Posted: 10/17/11 12:09 PM ET

"The people I meet just don't get it," Gray is Green's Kath Schomaker says of her conversations at faith communities and senior centers about the attacks on environmental safeguards. "'Why would anyone be against clean air?' they ask."

"This is the most anti-environment House in history," said Rep. Waxman (D-CA) as he unveiled a new searchable database of legislative votes. Since the beginning of the 112th Congress in early 2011, over 160 votes have been taken to undermine protection of the environment.

"They are particularly enflamed by the Clean Air Act," Frances Beinecke, NRDC's president, writes in her Switchboard blog this week, "a law that has prevented more than 4,300,000 premature deaths since 1990, according to the EPA. It has also prevented 17,850,000 asthma attacks and 14,154,000 cases of chronic bronchitis since 1990."

In the past few weeks, riding a tsunami of anti-government fervor, the House has:

  • Passed the TRAIN Act which not only would repeal protections against mercury and soot from power plants, but also rewrite the Clean Air Act to require the EPA to put polluters’ cost complaints above health and science concerns when drafting new safeguards.
  • Voted to block the EPA from reducing pollution from cement kilns--one of the biggest sources of mercury in the nation.
  • Set their sights on EPA's plans to require power plants to clean up coal ash, the waste left over after burning coal. Agency scientists identified 67 coal and oil ash dump sites that have already contaminated groundwater and wells. The toxic brew from a coal ash pond at a Tennessee plant flooded 12 homes and upended hundreds of lives when the pond ruptured in 2008. More than 1,300 similar landfills and ponds exist around the nation, most of them unregulated.

"Who's interests are they serving?" Kath asks.

As reported in The New York Times last Friday, the coal industry is spending millions of dollars on lobbyists and campaign contributions to make sure they "frame the debate" and shape the legislation in order that it is their interests that are served. All this for coal plants that, according to a paper in the highly prestigious American Economic Review titled "Environmental Accounting for Pollution in the United States Economy," are responsible for more than one-fourth of air-pollution-related "gross external damages" in the entire U.S. economy -- roughly $53 billion in damages a year.

Damages that, as David Roberts of Grist explains here, the public is absorbing "in health-care spending, missed work days, lower productivity, and simple suffering (the ill effects of which are not spread evenly among classes, races, regions" [or ages for that matter] as if "these costs just happen, like they have no origin or responsible parties."

But they do. "Real Americans must stand up," Kath says, urging those with whom she meets--those whose parents have respiratory disorders, whose spouses struggle with cardiac disease, or whose kids are among the seven million children living with asthma. "We need to let our Representatives know that, though they as politicians may feel beholden to the special interests who pour lots of money into their campaigns, the voters put them there and the voters can vote them out."

And the voters overwhelmingly want clean air and a strong EPA. As reported by Environmental News Services, a new survey of voters conducted in the first week of September 2011 by Hart Research Associates and GS Strategy Group reveals that "by a wide margin, voters of both political parties and in all regions of the United States disagree with Congress' anti-Environmental Protection Agency agenda and support the EPA's new rules to limit air pollution from coal-burning power plants." The poll also indicated, that "two-thirds of the respondents--67 percent--oppose Congress delaying implementation of the air pollution rules."

We cannot wait until the next election. These attacks on our health and environmental safeguards are happening now. Use NRDC's Action Center to send messages (by mail, by phone and email) to your Senator and Representatives today that say you oppose the "anti-EPA" agenda and support strong pollution controls.

Make your voices heard.