Party of No Ramps Up Clean Air Attacks

As if passing the TRAIN Act last week wasn’t bad enough, House Republicans have now scheduled votes for next week aimed at dismantling Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations that protect the public health against illness and death from air pollution.

The TRAIN Act (HR 2401, Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation), delays two life-saving clean air safeguards and allows them to be permanently blocked:  the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which curbs power plant smog and soot pollution that crosses state lines, and the Mercury and Air Toxics standards , which limit mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants.

According to a memo from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the "Party of No Corporate Regulations Frees Them Up to Create Jobs" now wants to pass two bills that dismantle EPA regulations on toxic air emissions from cement plants, industrial boilers and incinerators.

Disguised as job protection measures, the proposed bills are in reality part of the Tea Party-endorsed attack on the federal government’s historical responsibility to protect its citizens from an out-of-control free market that results in corporate excesses and abuse. 

As the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) pointedly states,  "Environmental protections are not why the U.S. has a recession, and increasing the health costs of pollution won’t get us out of the recession."

The benefits of environmental regulations far outweigh the costs, according to a recent report by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

32 major EPA rules issued over the last ten years will lead to estimated benefits of between $82 billion and $551 billion in 2001 dollars, while the costs are estimated between $23 billion to $29 billion. 

HR 2250, the EPA Regulatory Relief Act, would void standards for industrial boilers and solid waste incinerators and delays industry compliance for at least 3.5 years. The standards control the release of lead, benzene, mercury and other cancer-causing dioxins. Delaying compliance would result in over 100,000 tons of toxic air pollution, up to 22,750 premature deaths, 143,000 more asthma attacks, and more than one million missed days of work or school.

It would allow industrial facilities "to burn tires, coal waste and used chemicals for energy without controlling or reporting their toxic air pollution," says NRDC. 

The bill would overturn a 2007 Supreme Court decision that unanimously authorized EPA to protect public health via the Clean Air Act. The standards are more than a decade overdue.  

"The Cement Sector Regulatory Relief Act of 2011"(H.R. 2681) would void standards for cement plants standards under the guise of giving EPA more time to complete them, but in fact, they are finished and ready to be implemented.

The cement industry has had a free pass for decades, polluting communities with high levels of mercury, soot and smog, acids, and heavy metals. EPA has already finalized a rule that goes into effect in 2013, to reduce mercury pollution from most of the country’s 100 cement plants by 92% and cut emissions of hydrochloric acid by 97%.

Even worse, both bills prevent the EPA from re-issuing these standards in the future.

It’s hard to imagine the Democrat-controlled Senate would go along with a radical House majority in passing legislation that endangers public health without providing any economic benefit, and in fact President Obama has already stated that he will veto the TRAIN Act.

But Republicans could attach these bills as amendments to other crucial bills that Democrats would have a hard time voting against.

There’s also fear the administration could capitulate or over-compromise as it has already. Earlier this month, Obama ordered EPA to withdraw new standards on ozone air pollution. EPA also issued Clean Air Act standards this year that were weaker than expected, and extended the deadline on emissions reporting by high-emitting industry sectors.

You can email your representative here asking him/her to reject Rep. Cantor’s reckless attacks on clean air by voting no on the cement plant bill (H.R. 2681) AND the incinerator-boiler bill (H.R. 2250):

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