Congress Takes Aim at Clean Air Act

“The proposals we’ve seen in recent weeks that open polluter loopholes in the Clean Air Act are a huge step backward for people, wildlife and our economy."

02-08-2011 // Tony Iallonardo
Smoke stacks at sunset

Several bills have been introduced in the opening days of Congress that undermine the 40 year old and highly successful Clean Air Act. Drawing the most attention is one from U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), though others have emerged from Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) and also Sen. Jay Rockefeller (R-WY).

The details vary from bill to bill, but each of them amounts to a fundamental assault on a bedrock U.S. environmental law that has proven successful in cutting pollution while growing the economy.

For four decades, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has used the Clean Air Act to hold polluters accountable and successfully protect the health of millions of Americans – including our children, our seniors, and the most vulnerable among us – from dozens of air pollutants. EPA has a solid track record of protecting the public while developing reasonable measures that are achievable and keep the economy growing.

Cleaning up air pollution has also protected wildlife from harmful emissions that threaten species directly and also contaminate water, degrade habitats, and damage the environment.

The polluter agenda in Congress is proving out of step with the public and likely to draw opposition from President Barack Obama. In his recent State of the Union address, he pledged that he "will not hesitate" to protect commonsense safeguards that ensure America's air is safe to breathe.

A recent poll found Americans want the EPA to do more, not less to protect clean air. Almost two thirds of Americans (63 percent) say “the EPA needs to do more to hold polluters accountable and protect the air and water,” versus under a third (29 percent) who think the EPA already “does too much and places too many costly restrictions on businesses and individuals.” Well under half of Republicans (44 percent), less than a third of Independents (29 percent) and under a fifth of Democrats (16 percent) think the EPA is going too far today.

The Congressional attacks on the Clean Air Act are drawing wide condemnation from conservation and public health groups.

“The proposals we’ve seen in recent weeks that open polluter loopholes in the Clean Air Act are a huge step backward for people, wildlife and our economy. They attack clean air while undermining our ability as a nation to protect public health, not to mention our ability to compete in the clean energy economy,” says NWF President and CEO Larry Schweiger in a recent post to National Journal.

“The Clean Air Act guards the most vulnerable Americans,” the American Lung Association wrote in condemning the Inhofe/Upton bill. “Those with asthma and other lung disease, children, older adults, and people heart disease and diabetes—from the dangers of airborne pollutants, including the threats from growing carbon dioxide pollution. Each year the Act prevents tens of thousands of adverse health effects, including asthma attacks, heart attacks and even premature death. This year alone, the Clean Air Act will save more than 160,000 lives.”

For more information, fact sheets and to take action, visit NWF’s clean air page.

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