The Clean Air Act—our nation’s principal law protecting the air we breathe from pollution—has a more than 40 year track record of cost-effectively cutting pollution, preventing hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and hundreds of millions of cases of respiratory and cardiovascular disease, and spurring technological innovation. Indeed, a recent government study showed that over the last 20 years the benefits of the Clean Air Act have exceeded the costs by a factor of 30 to 1. That means that for every $1 spent by a polluter to control emissions, the American public receives approximately $30 in benefits, ranging from savings in health care costs to higher economic productivity as fewer workers are forced to miss work due to illness. In 2010 alone, the EPA estimates that the Clean Air Act prevented more than 160,000 premature deaths, 130,000 heart attacks, 13 million lost work days, and 1.7 million asthma attacks.
Yet despite—or perhaps because of—this track record of success, big polluters and their allies in Washington are in the midst of the worst sustained assault ever on this landmark law. Indeed, the House Republican leadership has prioritized these attacks and overseen passage of numerous pieces of legislation to block, weaken, or delay a host of long overdue clean air safeguards that would provide enormous public health and environmental benefits. In response, LCV has made it a top priority to prevent any provision from becoming law that would tie the hands of the EPA’s scientists from safeguarding the health of the American people from harmful air pollution.
While LCV remains committed to passing comprehensive legislation to address global warming and spur a clean energy economy, we are working with the Obama administration to fulfill Congress’s intent to protect public health from harmful pollution when it passed the landmark Clean Air Act in an overwhelming and bipartisan fashion.
In December of 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency made the determination that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases pose a danger to public health and welfare. This science-based finding, a result of the Supreme Court's 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, gives the EPA the authority and the responsibility under the Clean Air Act to hold polluters accountable by limiting the carbon pollution they dump into our air.
Big Oil and Dirty Coal have predictably responded by demanding a free pass to continue polluting. Their allies in Congress, led by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK), have introduced a series of Dirty Air Acts that would undermine the Clean Air Act. Though Chairman Upton’s Dirty Air Act (H.R. 910) unfortunately passed the House of Representatives in April 2011, LCV worked hard to successfully defeat a series of votes in the Senate that same month on legislation to undermine Clean Air Act protections, and we will continue fighting polluters’ attempts to remove the only national limits on harmful carbon pollution.
Every year toxic air pollutants like mercury and arsenic are responsible for thousands of premature deaths, millions of cases of respiratory ailments like asthma attacks, and millions of lost work days. Mercury in particular is so widespread that one in twelve women of childbearing age is likely to have mercury levels high enough to put her baby at risk of having difficulties walking, talking, reading, writing, and learning. That is why LCV supports the EPA’s efforts to move forward with standards to limit toxic air pollution from large industrial facilities like power plants, industrial boilers, and cement plants, and we are fighting efforts by some in Congress to weaken or delay these and other life-saving health safeguards. Many of these standards are long overdue after the Bush administration delayed moving ahead with these rules or proposed standards that courts threw out because they failed to comply with the plain language of the Clean Air Act.