WASHINGTON -- Less than an hour after passing the so-called Protect Life Act to guard the unborn, the House of Representatives passed a bill that the EPA warns will kill thousands of people prematurely.
House Republicans argued that the EPA Regulatory Relief Act of 2011 was a "timeout" from long-delayed regulations aimed at mercury that threatened to raise costs on boiler operators and incinerators. But the measure also exempts smaller burning facilities from any regulation at all.
The EPA estimated that the bill, H.R. 2250, would allow 20,000 people to die prematurely from pollution.
But for the GOP, preserving the jobs was more important.
“The House Republican jobs agenda is focused on removing the uncertainty hampering small businesses through policies that promote private sector growth," said House GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.). "Small businesses and entrepreneurial start-ups are the engine of job creation in America, and Washington should not be working to make it more costly and more difficult for them to do business."
He added that the proposed boiler regulations "could raise compliance costs, take away billions of dollars in capital annually and put hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk."
The National Republican Congressional Committee immediately began campaigning on the vote, attacking Democrats who opposed the bill, saying they voted to "endanger over 300,000 American jobs." The committee's press release cited a report prepared for the Council of Industrial Boiler Owners.
It's just the latest in an ongoing assault on the EPA that as of last week had prompted 159 anti-environmental regulation votes on the House floor this year. The House passed a measure last week to relax proposed regulations on cement kilns, which the EPA says will lead to 12,500 premature deaths.
Environmental groups and Democrats were livid over the 272 to 142 vote, which they said will allow smaller incinerators -- often in urban settings -- to burn tires, solvents, plastics, oil sludge and other toxic-laden substances for profit without any oversight or reporting requirements.
"By taking away pollution control requirements for industrial boilers and incinerators, H.R. 2250 would literally kill and sicken thousands of Americans," said Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew. "And what is simply appalling is that the industry lobbyists who pushed for this bill and the members of Congress who voted for it know these facts."
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) argued that the GOP is ignoring all the costs born by society, which will have to foot the bill for higher rates of asthma and heart attack, among other health problems.
“Americans need more jobs not more toxic air pollution," Becerra said in a statement. "The Republican plan to sacrifice the air we breathe is hazardous to our health and imposes a cleanup tax on our kids in the future. It is past time for this Congress to start focusing its energy on restoring a cutting-edge economy that puts America ahead of the competition, jumpstarts new industries and rebuilds our roads and bridges."
The measures are unlikely to pass the Senate, and President Obama has vowed to veto them. Still, environmental advocates worry that the measures could wind up added to must-pass legislation as Congress struggles to control the deficit.