Clearing the Smokescreen: Toxic Air Pollution Standards

Confusion is a popular tool in Washington. The opposition campaign to the Environmental Protection Agency's new health standards for toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants is a clear example.

Lately, there seems to be a new claim every day about why some polluters can't or won't install modern pollution controls on their smokestacks. Far too often, what's missing from the discussion is the real and significant consequence of their resistance -- the health impacts. Cleaning up toxic air pollution will save lives, and this action is long overdue.

The American Lung Association thanks President Obama and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson for seeing through the smokescreen and putting the health of our children first. Life-threatening air pollutants from coal-fired power plants have slipped through a "toxic loophole" that has existed for more than 20 years. Finally, all power plants will be cleaned up. Half of the country's plants already have installed modern emissions controls, now is the time to finish the job.

The final standards, announced by President Obama this week, will protect Americans against life-threatening air pollution like mercury, arsenic and other toxins linked to cancer, heart disease, neurological damage, birth defects, asthma attacks and even premature death.

These standards are a lifesaver. Each year they will prevent 11,000 premature deaths and 130,000 childhood asthma attacks. Yet some big polluters and their allies in Congress continue to call for a delay. They want to postpone the cleanup by years and they want to emit up to 20 percent more mercury than the limits set by the Obama administration. But who could possibly justify needless deaths, disease and damage to children's neurological development?

This pollution impacts people who live and breathe in the shadow of the power plant and those that are hundreds of miles away. More than 400 coal-fired power plants located in 46 states across the country release in excess of 386,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants into the atmosphere each year.

Since President George H.W. Bush signed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 twenty-one years ago, companies have been on notice that this cleanup was coming. There is better and cheaper technology available now, that American companies make and American workers will install, to lower emissions.

Many power companies have made the investment or have plans to comply; they are to be commended. We urge the remainder to spend money on cleanup, not on lawyers and lobbyist to try to block these lifesaving standards. Step forward and work to maximize the pollution reductions and do your fair share to help those that breathe the air downwind from your smokestacks. No one wants to breathe your secondhand smog any more.