Climate change | Ecotrope

Lisa Jackson: 10 reasons not to gut the Clean Air Act

Ecotrope | Feb. 9, 2011 6:45 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:41 p.m.

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Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson

Republicans have proposals in both the House and the Senate to ban the Environmental Protection Agency from using the Clean Air Act to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Michigan) has proposed the House Energy Tax Prevention Act. His logic centers around the costs of EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations on American businesses, workers and energy consumers: “To protect jobs and fortify our energy security, we should be working to bring more power online, not shutting plants down,” he said in a statement. “We are woefully unprepared to meet our nation’s growing energy demands, yet this administration’s ‘none of the above’ energy policy will do nothing but cost jobs, make energy more expensive, and increase our dependence on foreign sources of energy.”

Today, Jackson responded to Upton’s bill in testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power, saying: “The bill appears to be part of a broader effort in this Congress to delay, weaken, or eliminate Clean Air Act protections of the American public. I respectfully ask the members of this Committee to keep in mind that EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act saves millions of American children and adults from the debilitating and expensive illnesses that occur when smokestacks and tailpipes release unrestricted amounts of harmful pollution into the air we breathe.”

Jackson argues the Clean Air Act provides society with some quantifiable benefits (Note: she may not be responding directly to Upton’s bill with all of these perks. In fact, Republicans at the hearing pressed her to admit the bill in question wouldn’t affect other regulated air pollutants.). Here’s a list of 10 reasons she says Congress should keep the Clean Air Act (and the EPA’s enforcement of it) intact:

  1. Saving lives: Last year, air pollution restrictions authorized by the Act saved 160,000 American lives.
  2. Cutting health care costs: Pollution regulation prevented 100,000 hospital visits last year.
  3. Preventing illness: Regulations also prevented millions of cases of respiratory illness, including bronchitis and asthma.
  4. Enhancing productivity: Preventing illness means preventing millions of lost work days and keeping kids healthy and in school.
  5. Creating a clean-air industry: In 2008, environmental technologies generated $300 billion in revenue and $44 billion in exports.
  6. Creating regulator jobs: An analysis released yesterday by the University of Massachusetts and Ceres found updated Clean Air Act standards will create 1.5 million jobs over the next five years.
  7. Protecting human health: In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases count as air pollutants that pose a threat to human health and welfare, thus qualifying them to be regulated under the Clean Air Act.
  8. Heeding science: “The National Academy of Sciences has stated that there is a strong, credible body of evidence, based on multiple lines of research, documenting that the climate is changing and that the changes are caused in large part by human activities. Eighteen of America’s leading scientific societies have written that multiple lines of evidence show humans are changing the climate, that contrary assertions are inconsistent with an objective assessment of the vast body of peer-reviewed science, and that ongoing climate change will have broad impacts on society, including the global economy and the environment. Chairman Upton’s bill would, in its own words, repeal that scientific finding.  Politicians overruling scientists on a scientific question— that would become part of this Committee’s legacy. “
  9. Promoting a clean-energy sector: “EPA and many of its state partners have now begun implementing safeguards under the Clean Air Act to address carbon pollution from the largest facilities when they are built or expanded.  A collection of eleven electric power companies called EPA’s action a reasonable approach focusing on improving the energy efficiency of new power plants and large industrial facilities. 

And EPA has announced a schedule to establish uniform Clean Air Act performance standards for limiting carbon pollution at America’s power plants and oil refineries.  Those standards will be developed with extensive stakeholder input, including from industry.  They will reflect careful consideration of costs and will incorporate compliance flexibility.  

Chairman Upton’s bill would block that reasonable approach.  The Small Business Majority and the Main Street Alliance have pointed out that such blocking action would have negative implications for many businesses, large and small, that have enacted new practices to reduce their carbon footprint as part of their business models.  They also write that it would hamper the growth of the clean energy sector of the U.S. economy, a sector that a majority of small business owners view as essential to their ability to compete.”
  10. Reducing dependence on foreign oil: “Last April, EPA and the Department of Transportation completed harmonized standards under the Clean Air Act and the Energy Independence and Security Act to decrease the oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of Model Year 2012 through 2016 cars and light trucks sold in the U.S.  

Chairman Upton’s bill would block President Obama’s plan to follow up with Clean Air Act standards for cars and light trucks of Model Years 2017 through 2025.  Removing the Clean Air Act from the equation would forfeit pollution reductions and oil savings on a massive scale, increasing America’s debilitating oil dependence.”

I find it interesting that her testimony increasingly hints that building an alternative clean-energy industry could offset the losses in traditional industries. After all, there are jobs and economic development in pollution controls … but can clean energy pick up where traditional energy production leaves off without driving energy costs sky high? And, moreover, are high energy costs really a deal-breaker for the U.S. economy? Moreso than climate change?

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